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Agencies Of All Creeds Come Together In Times Of Tragedy

Agencies Of All Creeds Come Together In Times Of Tragedy Team Lilly Foundation Funding Grants Insights into Religion News Group of People Diversity

Relief organizations work around theological differences to help Haiti. When it comes to disaster relief, go-it-alone denominationalism is giving away to cooperation.

The Rev. Glenn Merritt, director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, was in Haiti almost immediately after a devastating earthquake shook the country in January. His organization provided food, medical supplies and first aid to the multitudes of people who suddenly found themselves homeless.

But, Merritt says, LCMS can’t save Haiti alone, and neither can any other relief agency.

His crew landed in Haiti the same time Baptist, Catholic and Methodist organizations did. It was only natural, Merritt says, for the organizations to put their heads together and get to work.

“We were exchanging ideas and material goods back and forth,” he says. “If one group needed this or that, we’d trade. Even though there might be doctoral differences between the church bodies, those differences are set aside as we work together to provide as much assistance as possible.”

Working with the United Nations and with organizations such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), and Action by Churches Together (ACT), Merritt said relief workers from religious and non-religious groups are able to work together. More information on CMA and ACT can be found at the Wabash Center's resources page

According to Hartford Institute for Religion Research, not only ecumenical cooperation is up. Interfaith community service has been on the rise too, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist strikes. The report says that 37.5 percent of congregations have joined in interfaith community service activities. Before the 2001 terrorist attacks, only 8 percent of congregations had been involved in interfaith volunteerism.

Merritt, a veteran in relief work, said the need for interfaith volunteerism in times of tragedy has always been there, but became especially evident when Cedar Rapids, Iowa flooded in 2008.

“Everybody quickly realized that it was too big for one, two or even three faith-based or government organizations to handle,” he says.

Suffragan Bishop Jim Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut says there’s an expectation that people will cross religious lines in times of need.

“I think that there’s a deep sense of connectedness as human beings that tragedies like this raise up,” Curry says. “It opens our eyes to being brothers and sisters with our neighbors.”

Kate Conradt, director of media and communications for Save the Children, says her agency relies on the partnerships of many secular and religious organizations.

Save the Children is part of a global coalition that works with more than 30 organizations, including World, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Friends of the World Food Program, Bread for the World, Mercy Corps and World Vision.

Conradt said these partnerships are crucial in times of extreme crisis. After the Haiti earthquake, Save the Children teamed with other organization to help distribute food, she explained.

“We often partner with other agencies for wide-scale programs, bringing in their expertise to complement ours,” she said. “And we work together toward common advocacy goals.”

Merritt says it’s the norm now to see organizations of all creeds working together in times of tragedy. Haiti, he said, is perhaps the greatest example, noting that as of March 600 different relief agencies from across the globe were working together to help the island.

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