Skip to comments.Resilient Mississippi Episcopalians determined to rebuild Gulf Coast congregations
Posted on 09/06/2005 5:18:04 PM PDT by sionnsar
[ENS, Gulfport, Mississippi] Surrounded by scenes of devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina, more than 50 parishioners of St. Mark's Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, were joined by police, military and relief workers September 4, as they worshipped on the site where their church once stood -- a testimony to their strength and determination to move forward.
"You are St. Mark's Church," said the Very Rev. James Bo Roberts, rector, as he addressed the congregation. "You are the spirit of St. Mark's Church. It's you who have to stand for Jesus. It's you who will bring us back as we once were."
Built in 1846, St. Mark's is the oldest Episcopal church on the Mississippi coast and one of six that were completely destroyed after Katrina hit August 29.
"Although the church is not standing physically," Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi explained, "spiritually the church continues to stand and we will continue to do the work that God has called us to do."
Despite the dangers involved, Roberts remained in his Gulfport rectory as Katrina pounded the coast, "because it's difficult to gain access to the area afterwards," he said. "I wanted to be where I could check on my people and be available to them."
Roberts' house in Gulfport is about 20 feet above sea level, yet the water, he said, came right up to the door.
"It's time for us to reach out to one another; to try and renew our faith, increase our strength and our relation to God," he added. "Walking in the presence of Christ, we'll be able to recover from the ruins that we find ourselves in today."
It is Roberts' second hurricane as rector of St. Mark's. He had lived in Gulfport for only four months when Hurricane Camille devastated the area in 1969. Until Katrina, Camille was the worst hurricane on record to hit the Gulf Coast.
The first priority, Gray explained, is to give the local clergy some stability so that they can return to the area. "We need to make sure they have a place to live," he said. "We will probably get some motor scooters for them because gas is so hard to come by. We will get trailers for two or three clergy to give them temporary space."
The Diocese of Mississippi is helping to set up supply areas for local needs. Coast Episcopal School in Long Beach has begun to receive goods and volunteers and is hoping to serve 2,000 hot meals a day. Christus Victor, a Lutheran church in Ocean Springs, is home to Lutheran-Episcopal Services of Mississippi, an ecumenical social ministry organization.
St. Thomas, Diamondhead, will become another distribution point along the Mississippi coast in the weeks ahead. "Once these are fully operational, all the people who are eager to help our community will have a place to come to, a place to send materials and we will begin to step out into the community," Gray said.
Supplies are being received at several churches throughout Mississippi and the diocese is organizing these to be transferred to the coastal operations centers.
Episcopal Relief and Development sent immediate assistance to the diocese, where some parishes have become disaster shelters. ERD's support is helping to provide food, water, and other basic needs.
The Rev. Rob Dewey from the Diocese of South Carolina works with the U.S government's Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. He was deployed to Mississippi August 29 to support the men and women who make up the forensic team and to help families find their loved ones. "I would equate it very much to 9/11," he said. "I think we will all be here a while to offer assistance and support."
A center has been set up where people can provide information about family members who are missing. "This is certainly one of the most devastating things that I have been a part of," Dewey said, "but the local folks are resilient and we will do all that we can to help them."
After the service, Gray accompanied Dewey to the morgue where the bishop offered a blessing over the facility.
Originally from the Diocese of Kentucky, Catherine Gautier has been youth minister at St. Mark's for just six weeks. She is hoping to continue her work with the young people in the parish despite the devastation caused by Katrina.
"I have asked for people to consider getting in touch with organizations such as Salvation Army or the diocesan offices to offer support," she said, "but to definitely remember us over the coming months because the long term is going to be very difficult in moving forward and reestablishing this area."
Gautier explained that her husband's family lived on Jackson Avenue in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where three homes in a row were destroyed by the hurricane. "Only one home on that street -- my husband's grandmother's -- is still standing," she said. "It has been really painful to see how many people have lost their homes."
"It's not about the past, but looking to the future," said Diane Hayes, a St. Mark's parishioner since 1982. "St. Mark's is not the church, it's the people, and with everyone pulling together we will go forward."
Hayes, who is still living in her house by the sea despite it being five feet deep in water and without doors, windows and electricity, described people's generosity as staggering. "Not only have people been bringing water and food; two days ago someone came by with a case of fresh bananas," she said. "I didn't think we'd see fresh fruit for a very long time."
Asked whether the church would rebuild, Hayes explained that it is important for the coast that it does. "We don't want to not have a community here," she said. "I know the first reaction is maybe it's time to move away, but if everybody did that then the coast could not rebuild. So we have to stay and slowly put it back together and to make it our community again."
By Lora Hines and Patrick Peterson
September 5, 2005
Father Harold Roberts speaks to his congregation during services at the Church of the Redeemer on Sunday in Biloxi. Services were held outdoors on the site of the Episcopal church that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. About 100 parishioners attended the service, many of whom were seeing each other for the first time since the storm destroyed their church, homes and businesses.
Knocked from its tower by Hurricane Katrina, the big bronze bell rang on Sunday from its resting place on the ground. A peal of the bell carried through vacant lots that last week hosted the finest homes in Biloxi.
About 100 Church of the Redeemer parishioners held a service on the grounds of their ruined church.
Not a brick remained standing, and most of the rubble had been swept off the site. But spirits soared as members of the Episcopal church gathered and saw each other for the first time since the storm.
"To see so many people here and well is wonderful," said Marcia Swetman, who has attended the church for 36 years.
About 11 miles away, Marta Halliburton asked everyone at Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs to pray for her 18-year-old son, Cody Bowen, who suffers from mental illness.
She hasn't heard from him since Aug. 28 when he was taken to the crisis intervention center in Laurel for treatment.
Meanwhile, Halliburton has been helping the American Red Cross to keep her mind off her worries.
"It's better to help someone else," she said. "It's been a tough week. There are so many people in need. We're so blessed."
Ministers across the Gulf Coast reminded churchgoers of all denominations they had much to be thankful for despite the wrath Katrina unleashed on them on Aug. 29.
The Rev. Julian Gordy, former minister of Christus Victor Lutheran Church, delivered Sunday's sermon to about 100 people, many of whom sobbed during the service.
"Some have asked where is God in the middle of this tragedy?" Gordy said. "The answer to that one is easy. God is here."
In Pascagoula, the Rev. Alphonsa Petway gave the same message to a small fraction of his congregation.
His church, the 131-year-old Asbury Chapel AME Zion Church, was severely damaged by Katrina. He and 20 members held Sunday services in a grassy area next to the church.
Part of the roof over the church sanctuary was ripped off the building.
But the area near the altar came out unscathed. The church Bible was spared.
The congregation sang songs a capella and shared storm stories. They held umbrellas over their heads to fend off the blistering sun.
"I would like to say I've got a good God," said member Emelda Simmons of Pascagoula. "He's not a good God right now. He's good all the time."
Fellow parishioners responded with "amen" and "that's right."
About 100 people gathered at Pascagoula's First Baptist Church, where volunteers across the country have been providing food to storm victims since Wednesday.
"What you think about your problems is where you stand in your Christian life," the Rev. Rex Yancey said. "Most of us lost everything except the most important thing. God expects us to display our faith in times like this. We have to have some burdens to appreciate the blessings."
Church member Mike Odon said Sunday's service was like an oasis. It gave him a break from the work he needs to do to restore his parents' home.
"This helps deal with that," Odon said.
"I don't know if I'll have a job. There's going to be tens of thousands of people without jobs.
"God has a purpose for everything," he said. "I have to believe that."
For Swetman and many of the parishioners at Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, Sunday's service was the second time they had attended a service after their sanctuary was destroyed by a hurricane.
Camille left only the bell towers standing in1969. Katrina took even the tower that Camille left.
However, Katrina spared the congregation.
"This is both the happiest and the saddest day of my life," said the Rev. Harold Roberts, as he began the service. "I have yet to be called by Bradford O'Keefe (Funeral Home) for anybody in our congregation."
Several dozen reporters and photographers attended the service, as parishioners sat in lawn chairs and listened to music played on a boom box.
The service continued to the background noise of an earth-moving machine clearing debris, passing helicopters carrying supplies and the arrival of two giant Navy hovercraft, which brought cheers from the congregation.
Before the service, Gig Tisdale, a lawyer and National Guard pilot, arrived in a helicopter, bearing water and ice for the congregation.
Roberts added that a church in Daphne, Ala., had delivered supplies for the congregation.
"Don't be needy and don't be humble," he said.
Longtime member Ann Curet of Biloxi said some of the church members who lost homes plan to sell their property and move 300 miles inland.
"That's how you feel when you face what you have to do," she said. "I'm debating whether to rebuild or look for something else."
Even the younger church members, who did not endure the rebuilding after Camille, believe the Episcopal church will rise from the rubble.
"The church is always going to build back," said 18-year-old Jeremiah Fish of D'Iberville. "It's a family.
"Everybody's a family now, and we're trying to get out of this together."
Living inland as I have for the past 33 years, I've become increasingly disgusted with the Feds and State Gommints, as they rebuild and rebuild people's houses, when these same people have chosen to live in an area that is ravaged by (1) hurricanes (2) mudslides (3) forest fires, (4) whatever kind of natural disaster perpetually hits the area, I think there should be a rule that goes something like:
We will rebuild your home ONCE. The second time it is destroyed by any natural disaster, even if the first time it was a hurricane, and the second time, it was a fire, you still own the land, but you cannot rebuild your house and expect any kind of insurance, Federal or State. Period. No exclusions; no exemptions.
I have watched as hurricanes destroyed homes along the NC and SC coast; as hurricanes destroyed whole communities in S. Florida when Andrew hit; as mudslides destroyed houses that had never been occupied because they had such bad cracks in the walls but slid down a mountain side when rains took out whatever foundation/supports it had. IOW, the owners knew, before it slid down the moutainside, that that home was uninhabitable, but with OUR tax dollars at work, they get to rebuild their reported million-and-a-half dollar home!!
I just don't think my tax dollars should be used to rebuild people's homes, over and over and over, when they are choosing to live where natural disasters keep destroying it.
Someone told me that S.C. had passed such a law. Your home will be rebuilt ONCE. But the next time a hurricane, wind action, water, whatever, destroys it - you can still own the land but you will not get any help in rebuilding that home on the same landsite!!!
I think some very discerning eyes should be put to work along the Gulf Coast where communities like New Orleans were flooded or destroyed by wave action or wind action.
Isn't it a fact that the truly prudent thing to do would be to NOT rebuild that home on THAT piece of land, especially if that piece of land is 12 feet below sea level???
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.