Dave+ Linka, rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Newport, North Carolina, calls the night Hurricane Florence hit at full force “without doubt the scariest evening in my life.” While the church building was thankfully spared from major damage, the tornadoes that touched down in the surrounding areas left many neighborhoods looking “like a bomb went off.” In total, the storm caused $45 billion in property damage throughout the southeastern United States and claimed the lives of several dozen people.
But even greater than the impact of the storm has been the evidence of God’s faithfulness in the midst of it. “It has been phenomenal,” Dave+ says. “The Lord is redeeming this is in showing us how the body of Christ can actually work together here and how folks who’ve experienced damage themselves can be turned by the Holy Spirit to go out and give in spite of their lacking.”
Immediately following the storm, All Saints encouraged its members to assist those around them. “As soon as folks could get out, it seemed like anybody with a chainsaw was getting out and helping their neighbor.” The larger churches in the area had assembled work crews in advance and sprang into action. A work crew arrived from the Anglican Disaster Preparedness and Relief Team of St. Augustine, Florida to help the church meet the needs of people in the congregation and their neighbors.
The cleanup continues today, and Dave+ expects it will be quite some time before the task is completed. But the lessons learned in the aftermath of the storm will impact the church’s outlook on reaching out to members and the community long after the repairs have been finished.
In the wake of the hurricane, the leaders of All Saints realized they needed a different approach to funding and outreach. “Pastoral care and outreach need to go hand in hand,” Dave+ explains. In addition to the more obvious needs that present themselves in the church and community, “if we dig a little deeper, there are often really important needs that can be addressed with a helping hand or a visit.”
The storm brought an understanding that helping the community needs to be part of the church’s DNA. “We realized it’s all hands on deck. It’s not just a committee anymore. … It’s got to be the culture of our church that we’re going to help our parishioners; we’re going to help our neighbors instead of just writing a check.”
In interest of being able to help its members and neighbors well in the future, All Saints has determined it needs to have a basic readiness plan in place. “The next time something big happens, we’re going to be a little bit more prepared to do some heavier lifting,” Dave+ explains. This includes having items such as working chainsaws and tarps ready to go and surveying people in the church to learn who is willing and able to assist with cleanup efforts.
Although Dave+ anticipates that those who reach out after a storm will spend most of their time on tasks such as changing lightsbulbs and clearing fallen trees, he’s seen how acts of service like these—and the storms that necessitate them—can open doors for people to experience Christ. “The most important need is that we’ve got to have this encounter with Jesus. Sometimes it takes a hellacious storm to bring that renewal and sometimes it can take somebody helping out with the love of Christ to make that happen. But we all need Him.
God has also used Hurricane Florence to compel All Saints and other churches in the area to pursue cooperation within the body of Christ. The week following the storm, 25-30 clergy and community leaders gathered. “We realized the Lord was convicting us of being competitive and not cooperating,” Dave+ shares. Afterward he felt the Lord pressing him to reconvene local church leaders to recommit to serving, encouraging and blessing one another. “The storm has really opened our eyes that the body of Christ needs to come together, not just when there’s a storm, but that we’ve got to be unified.”
All Saints has also been impressed with the need to partner with those who are already meeting needs in the community. “There are some folks in town here who have really done a great job. Rather than reinvent the wheel, cooperating with other brothers and sisters in Christ who really understand this sort of thing is critical.” Dave+ calls these lessons “a huge blessing.”
As the church celebrated All Saints’ Day with a special waterside service, several members gave testimonies of what God allowed through the storm and his redemption in the midst of it. “We’re just really, really grateful because we can see God’s redeeming hand in this,” Dave+ shares. “We understand that God has seen fit to assign these trials to us. And yet God has also seen fit to encourage us and draw us through his Holy Spirit, that we can see these things getting redeemed in powerful ways.”