When heavy rains hit Minot, N.D., in June 2011, people started bracing themselves for the worst.
After all, Minot, a city of roughly 45,000 people in the north-central part of the state, had seen flooding before.
Situated on the Souris River, a winding channel that stretches from Sasketchewan, Canada, into North Dakota and then back north, the city had faced devastation in 1969, when the river overran its banks.
News reports this time around were expecting even more water. Then on June 21, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered the city to evacuate.
Michon Weingartner, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Minot, remembers the events well. Augustana is one of six ELCA congregations in Minot, and one of three that were damaged by the floods.
“Right as the flood waters were approaching, Bishop Mark Narum of the ELCA Western North Dakota Synod called the six congregations together,” Michon remembers. “He said, ‘Three of you will be under water, and three will not.’”
The congregations that expected to be hurt by the flooding partnered with those that were not in the floodwaters’ path. Augustana was paired with Bread of Life Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Minot.
“It just so happened that Bread of Life had a pastor they had just called during the flood, so the interim pastor and I got together,” Michon says. Together the two congregations prepared for the waters to come.
“A dike actually caused water to gather,” Michon recalls. Then when the river crested, the first floor and basement of the church were under water.
One year later, Augustana still hasn’t been able to return to their building.
In the meantime, they’ve been holding services at Minot State University in Minot and sharing office space with Bread of Life. Michon says having Bread of Life’s support in the recovery process has been great.
“They were really helpful in our transition. It’s really been a great partnership,” she says. And while the process of cleaning out the church has had a number of challenges, the members of Augustana are optimistic about the future. “There’s a lot of excitement and energy about moving forward,” Michon says.
“Moving forward” means a whole lot more to Augustana than just getting back in their building. “We’re trying to look at not just church on Sunday but how we interact with our neighborhood,” Michon says.
In addition to working on cleaning up and restoring their building, Augustana has been meeting with consultants to establish their vision and mission going forward.
Now as the town prepares to commemorate the anniversary of the flooding, Augustana is planning to take part. On June 22, the city will be hosting the Weekend of Hope where Oak Park, the city’s largest public park will officially reopen.
And on June 24, Augustana plans to once again begin services in their building.
Prayers and finances are still needed
Bishop Narum has worked closely with Augustana and the other congregations as they plan their futures.
Congregations are pretty honest, he says. “I think that for a lot of people there’s a lot of pain, and a year later lives are still pretty bruised.”
Bishop Narum says the region is still in need of “prayer and finances” though the deluge of support has meant a lot. “We’re ecstatic to be able to talk about the outpouring of support from around the country,” he says, pointing out that many ELCA congregations and synods have donated time, money and other resources to help the congregations and their members rebuild.
In addition, ELCA Disaster Response remains in the region, coordinating volunteers and meeting both short- and long-term recovery needs. It is estimated that the complete redevelopment and restoration of Minot and surrounding areas could take nearly nine years to complete. ELCA Disaster Response remains committed to meeting those needs.
“This is the gift of being brothers and sisters in Christ stretched across this country,” Bishop Narum says. “The money is great; it makes a huge difference, but I would also say that it’s the partnership and the love and the care that’s expressed through that money that is equally important.”