MANATEE — Clergy members for congregations large and small face the daunting task of trying to help their members make sense of the incomprehensible: the earthquake disaster in Haiti.
Many congregations have Haitians among their membership or support missions in Haiti.
“These kind of things happen and are beyond our scope of understanding,” said the Rev. Jeff Gross, of Living Lord Lutheran Church, 11120 S.R. 70 E., who says congregations should broaden their support for the stricken country.
“This is a time for us not to be Catholic or Baptist or Lutheran, but to be people of faith. This is an ecumenical opportunity, not a denominational opportunity,” Gross said.
Rabbi Harold Caminker, of Temple Beth El, said that during services Friday and Saturday, he included the people of Haiti in two prayers.
Temple Beth El prayed the healing prayer for Haitians living and suffering, and the mourner’s prayer for those who died, he said.
Caminker said he was at a Jewish spiritual retreat in Connecticut when he learned of the news in Haiti.
“We were all very much engaged in mediation, introspection and prayers,” Caminker said. “We all stood and joined arms. Some of us cried.”
The Reformed Jewish Appeal has already put in motion a request for each congregation to donate aid to the Haitian people, he said.
The Most Rev. Frank J. Dewane, bishop of the Diocese of Venice, sent his condolences to the victims and their families this week.
The Haitian Catholic community in the diocese celebrates Mass in Creole at six parishes, including Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bradenton
“I want to extend my prayers and my profound sympathy for those impacted by the earthquake that devastated Haiti,” Dewane said in a statement. “Many people in the Diocese of Venice are worried about the loss of both family members and friends who are in Haiti. I ask everyone to pray for those who suffer.”
The Diocese is taking a special collection this weekend. The Diocese is also accepting contributions at www.dioceseofvenice.org.
The Rev. Guy Francois, senior pastor of First Biblical Baptist Church of Palmetto, ministers to a primarily Haitian congregation.
Francois said virtually every Haitian in Manatee has been affected by the disaster.
“It’s tragic and heart-wrenching,” Francois said.
Asked how his members are coping, Francois said they “reach to others, they pray and comfort one another, they cry together and they are there for each other.
“Despite it all, God is still in control. When we can’t understand, we can trust his mind. We have a finite mind; he is alpha and omega,” Francois said.
Elder Lawrence Livingston, pastor of Eternity Temple in Palmetto, said his congregation also has a stake in Haiti.
A few years ago, Eternity Temple donated a 29-passenger bus to Pastor Abraham Joseph for his ministry in Haiti.
“He came and visited our church quite a few times and was in town for Thanksgiving,” Livingston said. “He called yesterday and said that the buildings have fallen, but everyone within our circle is OK.”
Pastor Bill Bailey, of Happy Gospel Church in Bradenton said he is encouraging his congregation first to pray and then find a credible way to help.
“We have several missionaries we work with in Haiti,” Bailey said.
Living Lord Lutheran’s Jeff Gross said Haiti has not had a lot of breaks during its tortured history.
“Hopefully we’ll create a greater awareness of the poverty and how tragic things have always been. If more people’s eyes are opened to the plight of the Haitian people, then we will broaden our aid and service. I’m confident that the churches of Manatee County will respond.
“We have had speakers from Haiti come to our church. Many of our clergy have been to Haiti and some of my parishioners have been. It’s a devastating shock to us,” Gross said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.