Marty Hancer, senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Princeton, accepted a Daily Point of Light award at the White House on July 15 on behalf of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Hancer received the call from the synod office on July 8 about the White House invitation as he and his family were arriving home after a trip to California
Hancer scrambled to arrange the trip, and arrived in Washington, D.C., two days ahead of time so he could take in the historic sights at the Capitol mall and beyond, in what was Hancer’s first trip to D.C.
Since federal government cutbacks began as part of sequestration many months ago, the public has not been able to even take tours at the White House. With the invitation, Hancer was not only able to be in the historic structure, but was also able to see President Barack Obama and wife Michelle, and former president George H.W. Bush. It was Bush whose speech in accepting the Republican nomination to run for president talked about a Thousand Points of Light type of volunteering. It was about the idea that thousands of volunteer efforts can improve life across the globe.
The organization, Daily Points of Light Inc., was formed and it has been giving out Daily Point of Light awards to individuals and groups exemplifying such volunteer work.
In the case of the NEMN Synod, the honor was for 475 high school youth and adult leaders from the synod putting in three full days of cleanup work in July 2012 on the Gulf Coast. The cleanup and repair was for the remaining ravages of Hurricane Katrina that came through there in late August 2005.
The NEMN Synod group included 22 people from Trinity Lutheran and seven from Immanuel Lutheran, both in Princeton. The group rode by bus to the shores of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., where they put in the cleanup work before continuing on to attend the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans.
Hancer was the co-organizer of the synod mission trip with Catherine Anderson, coordinator of the synod youth ministry. Anderson was invited to the White House with Hancer to receive the honor but was unable to attend. The synod covered Hancer’s airfare.
Whenever the NEMN synod has a group attending the ELCA Youth Gathering, it builds in what it calls a service element and in this case, it was cleanup in Mississippi.
Hancer told a Points of Light interviewer that the ELCA youth “scraped muck with their hands, hammered open walls that were infested with cockroaches, and none of it seemed to even bother them because they knew the work had to be done.” Witnessing their work “humbled me,” Hancer added.
Bush does not attend all of the events honoring recipients of the Points of Light award, but he was invited for this event on July 15 because it involved giving out the 5,000th Points of Light honor. It went to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, retired farmers from Union, Iowa, who created Outreach, a nonprofit that delivered more than 232 million meals to children suffering from hunger in the United States and east Africa.
Hancer said he was among 15 recipients of the honor that day at the White House and learned about some of the honorees’ projects. Hancer mentioned an attorney firm that does pro bono work for people who can’t afford it and a dental office that gives a number of hours of free dental service each week for the poor.
Hancer, besides having the memory of being part of the synod’s service work last summer in the Gulf Coast, now also has the experience of being in the White House and seeing many notables. Just seeing the president and first lady, and the former President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, was an experience, Hancer said.
Bush, now 89 and using a wheelchair, wore colorful, red-striped socks, Hancer observed. Hancer said he looked “frail,” but still had a strong voice.
Hancer also got to see Utah’s senior U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as well as Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC News. Hancer also saw former National Basketball Association star Dikembe Mutombo, who was a four-time NBA defensive player of the year.
“You see it on TV, you see these people on TV (and then to see them in person) was surreal,” Hancer said. “I don’t care what affiliation they are. They are all in the same room.”