Metro area Lutherans respond to collapsed bridge tragedy
When the most heavily-traveled highway bridge in the state of Minnesota collapsed and fell 64 feet into the Mississippi River on August 1, the span was loaded with crawling and standing traffic. Almost all of the vehicles, including some large trucks, backed up on the Interstate 35W bridge bypassing downtown Minneapolis plunged into the river below. Some vehicles remained standing on the collapsed pavement, while many cars were pinned or crushed below the broken concrete.
Among the victims whose vehicle fell from the bridge was Sherry Engebretson, 60, of Shoreview, Minnesota. The employee at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans was heading home for a family dinner. She was a member of Incarnation Lutheran Church (ELCA), Shoreview, Minnesota.
Responding to the tragedy, which was covered by media around the world, the two ELCA bishops whose constituencies include the metropolitan Twin Cities area spoke out.
Addressing participants at a service of prayer and remembrance, held at the Minnesota Church Center on the day following the disaster, Minneapolis Area Synod Bishop Craig Johnson said, “As people of faith, our confidence is centered upon God who rushes to aid all people in their suffering.”
Bishop Peter Rogness, who leads the ELCA’s St. Paul Area Synod, told Minnesota Public Radio in a Saturday morning broadcast following the tragedy, “The physical infrastructure failed, but the human infrastructure is functioning just fine.” He was referring to the response of the community to those whose families were impacted.
At least two area Lutheran congregations (and probably many more) held prayer services following the collapse of the bridge. Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis, just blocks from the site of the disaster, and Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minnesota, both welcomed members of the community into their sanctuary for prayer.
The Interstate 35W Mississippi River bridge had been partially closed for over a month while repair crews worked on resurfacing and replacing light fixtures and guardrails. That had telescoped traffic to two lanes in both directions and forced rush-hour traffic to a crawl. For several weeks the bridge had endured the weight of standing traffic for hours on end, twice each day.
The span was 40 years old and had no pillars providing support from the river below. Instead, it was one steel arch, taking its support from either shore. An investigation has been launched to determine the cause or causes of the structural failure. The bridge had been described as needing attention in recent years, but was not listed as being a hazardous structure.
The loss of the bridge means Minneapolis will experience major traffic dislocations for at least a year. Minnesota Governor Timothy Pawlenty announced he was dropping his opposition to raising taxes to fund highway infrastructure.