SIOUX FALLS, SD ( KELO) — A Madison, South Dakota woman is hitting the soggy ground running as she takes over as leader of thousands of Lutherans across the state.
Just days after Constanze Hagmaier was installed as the new bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, her neighbors in Madison were hit by devastating flooding. Now the bishop is using her new position of leadership to reach out to all people struggling physically, emotionally and spiritually with the toll that flooding has been taking.
Constanze Hagmaier is a firm believer in the restoring waters of baptism. But she also knows about the destructive power of floodwaters.
“That’s the reminder that God sets into my life. He says, just remember, this is bigger than sometimes you think you can handle. But I’m in all this,” Hagmaier said.
In a kind of biblical deluge, Hagmaier’s neighborhood in Madison was overwhelmed by flooding. Her home escaped the worst of it.
“In our family, we lost electricity like so many in our community, but we were never affected by the water, up to this point,” Hagmaier said.
Hagmaier’s heart goes out to the people dealing with flooding, not just her neighbors in Madison, but for all communities struggling with the high water.
“People are grappling to make sense of it and where’s God in the midst of all this,” Hagmaier said.
Just days before the flood, Hagmaier was in the midst of flowing robes during a solemn ceremony installing her as the new bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Hagmaier says she’s humbled by the new responsibilities she’s taking on as leader of more than 200 congregations across the state.
“So I approach this with a good dose of humbleness, and gratefulness, to be called to partner with the people of the South Dakota Synod that already do ministry on the ground,” Hagmaier said.
Hagmaier served as a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Madison before being elected to her six-year term as bishop. She’s a native of Germany who first came to South Dakota as an exchange student at Brandon Valley High School. Hagmaier became a naturalized citizen in 2006.
“My husband jokes that actually I was born in the wrong country. I should have been born in South Dakota because he says there’s no way nobody can love this place that much than you do,” Hagmaier said.
As a parish pastor, Hagmaier’s first instinct was when natural disasters struck was to be on the front lines and help with tasks such as sandbagging. But now that she’s bishop, she has to outsource those duties to members of the individual congregations across South Dakota.
“Now I have to figure out a new way as bishop of the South Dakota Synod how I can be present in the midst of the lives of the people that I have been called to serve and yes, I truly still wrestle with this,” Hagmaier said.
The South Dakota Synod’s office in Sioux Falls has become a kind of clearing house for flood-related calls.
“We’re hearing from some of the folks that the rain and the flooding has affected their church and their congregation and some of their homes and parsonages as well. And we want them just to know that we’re here for them,” South Dakota Synod Executive Administrative Assistant Crystal McCormick said.
Hagmaier says that kind of assurance of being there for a neighbor in need makes all the difference. It’s a calling she says all South Dakotans should answer, by being present in the midst of despair, by sharing their burden and bringing hope with a helping hand.
“Whether you shop-vacuum the water out of their basement or sandbag, or share a conversation, or just give them a listening ear, you know what, I don’t know what to say to you, but here I am,” Hagmaier said.
Hagmaier has also been sharing words of encouragement over social media and directing people to important resources such as the HelpLine Center and Lutheran Social Services. To visit the South Dakota Synod’s website, click here.