When the casseroles stop coming
This was so very apparent at on the site and at St. Paul's chapel on September 11, 2001 and the following 18 months. Restaurants, private companies, school children, service organizations, private contractors, clergy of all faiths, superstores, and individuals in this and other countries pitched in with money, food, groceries, muscle power, machinery, clothing, medical care and supplies and moral support.
Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma affected the states Alabama,Florida,Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in the infamous hurricane season of 2005. The response of individuals - and thank goodness the congregants of many houses of worship - pitched in immediately while government agencies lagged behind, their feet bound in red tape and ill preparedness.
When wildfires were ignited and spread in San Diego county, California aided and abetted by the notorious Santa Ana winds,organizations and individuals came in to help selflessly and generously.
When an earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean unleashed its fury on December 26, 2005 the countries of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand were profoundly affected. To date, 186,983 are dead, 42,883 remain missing and 1,174,749 have been displaced. Relief poured in.
It would appear that when a catastrophe occurs we are moved to help quickly.
Not surprisingly, our response to personal catastrophes is similar. When we hear about the death of someone who has touched our lives we make the effort to attend the funeral or memorial service, send personal condolences, send flowers, make donations to a designated charity, prepare food for the immediate family members or a memorial gathering, make calls to 'check up' on the family's grieving survivors.
After a period of time, though, whether the loss was on a personal or colossal level, interest, donations, ongoing concern, the ministry of presence falls off. For lack of another definition for this phenomenon, I'll call it 'when the casseroles stop coming'.
The worst aspect of this syndrome is that it coincides with the very time when those who were most affected by the loss are coming out of their self-preservation numbness to begin feeling the full brunt and the magnitude of their loss.
Before us, as Christians, stands an opportunity for service and compassion. We can be the hands, ears, mouth, heart of Christ for those who grieve. It is the time when we can practice the ministry of presence. We can offer prayers, assistance in chores, rides, food and our parishes as places of support, comfort and strength. For the huge disasters, we can be those who faithfully continue in the restoration efforts, particularly through organizations such as Episcopal Relief and Development or Habitat for Humanity.
The casseroles need not stop a week after the traumatic event. We are called to be a representative of Christ where suffering exists, to visit and nurture the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the displaced, the homeless, the unemployed. Be there - Jesus will join you. And bring a big enough casserole for left-overs!