It’s hard to believe that it was just three days ago. I was in the car when I got a text from my pastor: “Did you see the news? There’s been an explosion and collapse of a building at Minnehaha.”
Kyrie eleison, I wrote back once I saw the images. Christ, have mercy.
By the end of the day, the bodies of two employees had been pulled from the rubble. As I write, one more is still in the hospital. School president Donna Harris was among the others treated for injuries. Fortunately, the explosion took place before the start of the school year, and the few students on campus for athletics and other programming were not harmed. The damage to the Upper School building is serious, but it’s too soon to know just how bad it is.
Some of you probably have deeper connections to Minnehaha than me. I’m a mere board member, not an alumnus or parent. I did know one of the victims: custodian John Carlson was a fellow member of Salem Covenant Church, and we sang together a few times in different choirs.
So it was an unearned privilege to join the hundreds of people who gathered Wednesday night in the chapel of the unscathed Lower and Middle School (a mile and a half down the road). “God is our refuge and strength,” read Matt Kennedy, pastor of nearby Bethlehem Covenant, “a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear….” (Ps 46:1-2a). As we prayed and sang, images and feelings started to coalesce into thoughts. I don’t know that there are many good words to be said, this close to the event. But let me share a bit of what’s on my heart and mind:
First, as I watched people console and comfort each other, I saw Paul’s words from the first century coming to life in the twenty-first: “…we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another…. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Rom 12:5, 12). And I realized once more that, in the midst of a society as desperately lonely and bitterly divided as ours, there’s no Christian witness so powerful as the shared, lived faith of a caring community whose relationships span ages and generations.
But in a time when Christians sometimes think themselves under siege by an increasingly secular culture, it was equally powerful to see Minnehaha celebrated as an integral part of a city as religiously diverse and proudly progressive as Minneapolis. Responding to the disaster on Wednesday, Democratic mayor Betsy Hodges called Minnehaha and its people “a deeply valued part of our city and our community, particularly the Longfellow neighborhood.”
(Moreover, as we gave thanks Wednesday night for the tremendous response by the city’s first responders and leaders, I took heart. For all their flaws, our civic institutions may be stronger than we think — and should not be taken for granted.)
Finally, I thought again of the relationship between past and future for a school founded — reporter after reporter reminded us — in 1913. The one other time I’ve blogged about Minnehaha, it was to invite readers to support the school’s scholarship fund, on the eve of what’s called the Heritage & Hope dinner. I’ve learned that those words are no mere slogan. “We trust God,” Donna said Wednesday night from her wheelchair. “He is going to do phenomenal work through you, through those who are called to serve.” That’s a statement of heritage and hope, testifying to a faith sustained by collective memory and lived forward in common purpose.
But in the present, there is still great need. So I ask you, first, to pray for the people of Minnehaha:
- Pray for continued healing for those injured in the blast, and those who escaped physical harm but were still traumatized;
- Pray that the school’s administrators, teachers, and staff may have perseverance and wisdom as they make arrangements for a school year whose start is only weeks away;
- And pray for students and families who are dazed and uncertain what all this means for them.
Then if you’d like to follow another of Paul’s ancient admonitions and “contribute to the needs of the saints,” follow this link to Minnehaha’s website, where a disaster relief fund has been set up.