By Susan Kim (*)
How is the local church accompanying people during this catastrophe?
Bishop Sommerfeldt: The local church is an integral part of the local community and is suffering with the people. The majority of the people are members of the Church of Norway, and the local pastor is part of the local emergency team. The church is organizing pastoral accompaniment of the evacuated persons in two hotels, where the evacuated and relatives of the dead are staying. Since their physical needs are largely taken care of by the authorities and by different civil society organizations, the main role of the church is to listen to and counsel persons according to their different needs and support them in finding practical solutions for the huge challenge they have when they are deprived of everything they own. The church sanctuary is open daily for silent reflection, lighting candles, and receiving counseling.
For your Christian sisters and brothers around the world, can you tell us a little about the community?
Bishop Sommerfeldt: The community is a tightly-knit rural and suburban area. The whole community is therefore directly or indirectly affected. People are lighting candles in different places, including in the church, and by the Christmas nativity in the small center of the village.
Members of the church and those in different civil society organizations are organizing practical aid collected locally and from all over Norway. The local church sees it as essential to celebrate Sunday services, and the services are made available on Facebook and YouTube. The pastor is also accompanying local government leaders. And now preparations for the funerals have started as well.
The diocese is mobilizing persons from the neighboring communities and congregations to strengthen the capacity for pastoral accompaniment and have allocated resources for strengthened diaconal presence in the months and years to come. The community has a huge challenge ahead. They will have to move people permanently away from the area, and this includes moving a home for the elderly, a kindergarten, a health center and possibly even the administration center. Sewage, water supply and electricity are damaged and must be rebuilt. The whole community is traumatized.
In a tragic situation for so many, how is the church bringing hope?
Bishop Sommerfeldt: The church is bringing hope by being present with the people and serving their existential needs, by encouraging people to share hope through giving others concrete support, and offering space for prayer and reflections that communicate God is providing a future and a light in the shadow of death and despair. The presence of pastors and deacons with wise reflections in the public sphere, has been important for many people.
What can your ecumenical family pray for you and the people of Gjerdrum, now and in the weeks to come?
Bishop Sommerfeldt: The knowledge that the World Council of Churches has encouraged churches and people all over the world to pray for the Gjerdrum community and the people there is very moving and strengthening. The prayers may include the relatives of the dead, those who have lost everything they own, those who have been evacuated and must find a new place to stay, the leadership in the local municipality, the rescue workers and last, but not least, the local church and their employees and voluntary members. Pray that they may be given strength to sustain their accompaniment in the midst of the crisis, wisdom in healing of wounds and rebuilding efforts, and that all those who now give accompaniment to suffering people, themselves find comfort and healing.
(*) Susan Kim is a freelance journalist from the United States