All in the Name

By: Tom Kadel

When disaster strikes, it often affects whole communities.  Even areas of a community not directly impacted by, say, a flood, will almost always be affected in other ways.  There is a rippling effect.

One thing that we know is that faith communities will always be faced with new challenges as they seek to assist members and non-members alike.  Communities look to the local faith communities for an enormous number of helping acts.  But, the chances that one or more faith-based leaders there will have any training in disaster response or long-term recovery are quite slim.

That is why Lutheran Disaster Response of Eastern Pennsylvania developed a unique model for assisting affected communities.  It is called Spiritual Partners.  What they do is all in the name.  They partner with local pastors and congregation to attend to the spiritual needs of their members and their community.

Lutheran Disaster Response’s Spiritual Partners serve as coaches and guides for local pastors.  Their work focuses on helping local churches to become effective responders and long-term recovery partners.  Spiritual Partners are highly trained disaster experts who help these local churches assess and plan their role in the community’s recovery.  They are guides in making critical decisions, but always the local pastors and their congregations plan their own course through response and recovery.

In the usual model, one of the challenges to disaster spiritual care responders is that they are stranger – well-intentioned, but still strangers.  No one knows the affected community and its people better than those who live there.  An “outsider” cannot approach this deep and rich knowledge.  Yet, as I said, the chances of having disaster trained leaders in an affected community are pretty small.  Together, though, when the disaster knowledge of the Spiritual Partner combines with the knowledge of the local pastor and his or her congregation, a dynamic and highly effective partnership emerges.

Lutheran Disaster Response – Eastern Pennsylvania (LDR-EPA and its Spiritual Partners service is a ministry of Lutheran Congregational Services, the agency designated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) Lutheran Disaster Response program to oversee disaster preparedness and response for Lutherans in 24 counties of eastern Pennsylvania.  Lutheran Congregational Services is part of the larger Liberty Lutheran Services.  LDR–EPA works with congregations, local and federal agencies, and community organizations to help prepare for and respond to natural or human-caused disasters such as large apartment fires, severe storms, or terror attacks.  LDR-EPA serves 24counties in eastern Pennsylvania.

Each of the Spiritual Partners has a region which he or she serves.  When disaster strikes, the assigned Spiritual Partner contacts the local Lutheran church pastors (and other denominations if appropriate) and offers our services. Often, this will happen within hours of the disaster itself.  If accepted, the Spiritual Partner becomes a fellow sojourner from the early response to the conclusion of long-term community recovery.  The relationship may last for months or even years.

Another of the special services of Spiritual Partners is that through their connections with leaders in affected communities, timely and accurate information about needs will be communicated back to the LDR-EPA Coordinator, Julia Menzo.  It is often just as important to know what is not needed as what is needed – and when.  Julia, then, through LDR-EPA’s depth of experience in long-term recovery and wide network of disaster partners can efficiently connect pastors with the appropriate material and people resources.  Through that network, she can coordinate a corps of volunteers to assist with recovery, and provide congregations with the specific training and resources needed to best serve impacted communities.  And, of course, all of this happens in conjunction with the guidance of the Spiritual Partners.

For more information about the LDR-EPA Spiritual Partners Service, go to  Or, if you prefer, you may contact Julia at or me (Tom Kadel) at

Pastor Tom Kadel is a Supervisor with the Spiritual Partners program. This post originally appears on Sacred Turf.

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