“There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
St. Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 12 fit the community response to Tioga County’s flood of 2006 that saw churches, outreach organizations, civic groups, businesses and individuals unite in the face of disaster. This cohesion was acknowledged during an ecumenical thanksgiving service held June 27 at St. Patrick Church in Owego, on the flood’s one-year anniversary.
Rev. G. Terry Steenburg, pastor of First Baptist Church in Owego, frequently repeated the phrase “we together got it done” during his keynote address. He based his comments on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and also quoted from Christian author Max Lucado — “God’s greatest blessings often come costumed as disasters. Any doubters need to do nothing more than ascend the hill of Calvary”; and Oliver Goldsmith, an 18th-century Irish writer — “Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Ellen Keough, pastoral associate for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, said the idea for the service grew out of monthly meetings between leaders of different Christian churches in town, including St. Patrick. She said the event was designed to honor emergency workers as well as people and organizations that have since taken part in the recovery effort. Keough and Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick, noted that the service was modeled after a “Blue Mass” in which law-enforcement officials are recognized.
“This was really to honor anyone connected with (the flood),” Father Moorby said.
One person of note in attendance was Angela Klopf, director of Waverly’s Tioga Outreach Center. The Catholic Charities agency has taken a lead role in arranging donations of supplies and money and, in more recent months, has organized cleanups.
“Angela did a wonderful job of trying to coordinate some of the efforts. People continued working until right up to the last month,” Father Moorby said. “She did a wonderful job of being available.”
Rainstorms last June swelled the Susquehanna River over its banks, causing severe flooding in many parts of New York and Pennsylvania. Tioga County was the hardest-hit area within diocesan boundaries, resulting in the loss of thousands of acres of farmland and crops; damage and destruction of numerous homes; and displacement of residents. Overall damage costs have reached many millions of dollars.
Though Father Moorby said some people continue doing repairs on their homes while others are awaiting buyouts, Steenburg said the Tioga area is recovering much more quickly than the Federal Emergency Management Agency had originally projected, thanks in no small part to the community response. He noted that volunteers have helped out in terms of making and delivering lunches; building; shoveling mud; splicing wires; sending e-mails; conducting and attending meetings; and contributing money.
Keough added that all churches have contributed individually in the emergency stages and the cleanup, seeking out people who needed assistance as well as people willing to volunteer. She acknowledged that religious boundaries were generally blurred during this process.
“I personally worked with some of the people from Samaritan’s Purse (a nondenominational Christian relief organization) when we mucked out a few houses,” she said. “Nobody asked what church you go to — or even if you go to a church.”