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Saint Paul Area Synod Bishop Patricia Lull was invited to attend a consultation on the effects of climate change on natural disasters by the ELCA's Lutheran Disaster Response program, but she was unable to attend. Instead, she sent climate activist Anna Grace Hottinger to represent the synod. Anna Grace, a high schooler, attended the event in New Orleans with her mother, Pastor Kathryn Tiede, and shares her reflections of the event:
I have been invited to events and conferences before, but never as the youngest attendee. In mid-October, I attended the Lutheran Disaster Response's Consultation on Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption as Bishop Lull’s representative.
The first evening of the conference, all of the attendees broke bread together and got to know one another. This is when I began to learn more about the purpose of this conference. The conference was about our stories and our voices coming together as a collective. So with that mindset, I went into the next day of the conference to hear people for their stories and experiences and to be an ear, not a mouth.
Throughout the conference, there were speakers who talked about steps to take to mitigate disasters, create disaster safe communities, the policies and programs in place to assist agencies, and the importance of community.
Most of the time, we overlook the importance of “community” and rather consider what makes us happy or what benefits us economically, rather than looking at what other people may require. This was one of the biggest points touched on in the conference: so many times in the world of disaster response, people step into someone else's community and end up bringing their own cultural values and ignoring the ones already there. For example, post disaster, the Red Cross brings in food trucks to hand out food to individuals who have been impacted by a disaster. But commonly, people feel unsatisfied with the food or they don’t eat it because it isn’t "their" food. In a time of such trauma and pain, feeling comfortable should be a priority, but so often it isn’t.
For the benefit of individuals who haven’t actually been on the front lines or done front-line work (such as me!), we took a field trip around New Orleans. This field trip was to help teach us about the importance of community and why people kept coming back. For outsiders like us, it's so easy to question why on earth someone would live in a place that is simply waiting to go underwater. But no, the communities in New Orleans are so much higher than sea level, as they are strong, trustworthy, and all in all, a community.
Going to the Lutheran Disaster Response conference as the Saint Paul Area Synod representative was truly a life changing experience. It helped me gain so much knowledge from those much wiser than me, it inspired me to see the amount of people who work on the front lines of disaster, day after day, and still stick strong and true. But most importantly, it helped me learn about the importance of community and how community is the driving factor in change.