On the night of December 10, 2021, Pastor Colleen Winkler’s daughter and son-in-law told her it was time to move to the basement due to a tornado warning. Colleen was trying to lead her tired husband, who had just been diagnosed that day with Covid-19, downstairs when she noticed the patio doors rattling back and forth. She now wonders if that might have been the time the tornado was passing through.


The family sat together in the basement waiting out the storm. While the others were watching news about the weather, Pastor Colleen was constantly connecting through texts with the members of her congregation, St. Matthew by the Lake Lutheran Church in Benton, KY, to check on how all of them were doing. The news they shared with one another was that while most families were doing ok, a few had been trapped in their homes by debris. She got updates from a member whose home had been destroyed and whose son-in-law was traveling to get to them from Paducah, stopping along the way to cut the branches and tree limbs that blocked the road. 


The next day, Saturday, there was some debate about whether to have church on Sunday, since Colleen had been exposed to Covid and couldn’t preach, and so many people’s lives had been disrupted. Colleen put a stop to those conversations. While she hated not being able to gather with them, she said, “That (canceling church services) is the last thing we need to do. We need to get people together.”


Pastor Colleen and her congregation didn’t focus on looking inward. They reached out to see how they could help in the community and Pastor Colleen became involved in organizing and helping recruit volunteers for wrapping stations for Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s Christmas gifts for tornado victims. 


Establishing and maintaining connections continued to be a priority for Pastor Colleen and St. Matthew by the Lake church members. One connection led to another. A contact Pastor Colleen met at the Christmas wrapping station at Kentucky Dam reached out to her and asked if their church would provide a meal there one day a week. In January, St. Matthew by the Lake began that ministry, sponsored by a financial donation from St. Matthew, Paducah. Meals were cooked at St. Matthew by the Lake, then taken to Kentucky Dam to feed many people, including Red Cross volunteers and tornado survivors. A Red Cross worker then asked Pastor Colleen if they could set up a station at St. Matthew by the Lake to help people who had experienced major home damage. On Ash Wednesday and the day before they made their church, computers, and volunteer resource people available to help survivors apply for available financial resources.


Volunteers who Pastor Colleen recruited for these service opportunities made comments saying how glad they were that she had asked them. “It was something people wanted to do- to be the hands and feet of Jesus to help these people,” Pastor Colleen noted.


IN-KY Synod Disaster Response, in collaboration and cooperation with Lutheran Disaster Response, is working to help with the long-term recovery efforts following this deadly tornado in Kentucky. Like Pastor Colleen and the members of St. Matthew by the Lake Lutheran Church, your congregations and faith communities have a chance to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This year’s synod assembly offerings will go to IN-KY Disaster Response to help Kentucky tornado victims through the long-term recovery process and help IN-KY Synod be ready to respond to unexpected disasters in the future.


To donate as a part of your faith community or as an individual, please click the button below. Select Synod Assembly Offering from the drop-down “Give To:” box and put your faith community (congregation) name in the Note/memo section.