|Pastors face unexpected challenges after storm|
Oct. 25, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Vehicles tossed off the road by Hurricane Katrina are lashed by Hurricane Rita in Ocean Springs, Miss.
By Woody Woodrick*
BILOXI, Miss. (UMNS) - A team of volunteers arrived at the woman's house
to remove a tree that had fallen on the structure during Hurricane
The team members, all strangers to the homeowner, discovered the house
had structural damage and wasn't safe. They recommended the senior-aged
woman move. Where could she turn for advice?
She called the Rev. Ed Moses, her pastor. Moses said he went over and
asked the volunteers to leave him alone with the woman. After talking
for a time, she accepted that she would have to move temporarily.
Those are the kinds of needs pastors on the Gulf Coast are trying to
meet as their churches and communities work to recover from the killer
storm. Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, and many people are still
displaced or facing huge renovation projects, job loss and other
"They have a pretty good mental outlook," Moses said of his parishioners
at Gulfport Mount Pleasant and Biloxi St. Paul United Methodist
churches, "but each individual feels they need something specific right
now. They know change has come, and everything is going to be all right,
but day to day they need help."
One of the problems facing pastors is providing ministry to a flock that
is literally spread across the nation. Many Gulf Coast residents
evacuated before the storm hit. Others made it through the storm, but
their homes were so damaged they had to leave.
In addition to trying to meet spiritual needs, pastors find themselves
meeting physical needs they never expected, for items such as housing,
food and clothing.
At First United Methodist Church in Pass Christian, only one or two
families remain in the city, according to the Rev. Terry Hilliard,
pastor. Most of her members evacuated.
"I'm still trying to find members, and some still are not accounted for," she said. "I assume they're all OK."
Pass Christian was one of the hardest-hit areas. With most of her 45
members relocated, Hilliard said she expects about one-third will not
return to the Gulf Coast. She has turned her ministry efforts toward the
community at large. She visits with church families still in the area,
but also meets with city officials regularly and assists with
distributing food and supplies.
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
A tire swing sways in the wind from Hurricane Rita on Mississippi's Gulf Coast.
Her own parsonage was inundated with about 7 feet of water, but
fortunately, Hilliard has another housing option. Her husband, the Rev.
Larry Hilliard, is pastor at Nugent United Methodist Church in north
Gulfport, which also has a parsonage.
The Pass Christian church came through the storm relatively well.
"Because my church building is the only one downtown standing and
usable, I've been trying to get it cleaned up so the city or whomever
can use it," she added.
Hilliard also has tried to coordinate with city officials to assign work
teams to the area. Pass Christian still has checkpoints at the city
limits. To enter, one must be a resident - with ID showing a Pass
Christian address - or be escorted by a resident.
In addition, Hilliard holds worship services. Nine people attended the Sept. 25 services.
"I'm working on the congregation's needs," she said. "It's a short list. You just have to start somewhere and go from there."
The Rev. Elijah Mitchell has faced similar problems. He was pastor at
St. Rock United Methodist Church in Pass Christian and at the Seashore
Mission church in Biloxi. Both were destroyed. At Seashore Mission, 12
people sought shelter from the storm. Six survived. Two are missing.
Mitchell said the members at Seashore first were relocated to Biloxi
High School, but most are now in Corinth, and some are in Tennessee,
Alabama and other places.
Before the storm, Seashore held a daily worship service, and Mitchell
said he continued that practice at the shelter at Biloxi High. "We
stayed together as a family group," he said. "We were so committed to
worship, the others at the shelter joined in."
When the group decided to relocate, Mitchell held a memorial service.
About 30 people then boarded a bus to Corinth, where Willow Grove
Baptist Church provides shelter and help finding homes and jobs.
Mitchell said most of what he's been doing is listening. "Right now I'm
silent and listen to how they feel," he explained. "There is a lot of
anger and frustration, but the one thing people ask about is what are we
going to do about the church?"
He is trying to find housing for his churches members, especially those
who attend St. Rock. Most of the members have indicated, at least at
this point, that they don't intend to return.
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
Hurricane Rita hammers a beachfront home already destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Ocean Springs, Miss.
"If you haven't lost anything, you don't know how they feel," Mitchell
said. "When you see everything they own is gone, it is difficult to tell
them to come back when they still don't have a place to stay."
Moses said his members at Gulfport Mount Pleasant have something
resembling normal lives. However, the area around Biloxi St. Paul was
hard hit. The church is in downtown Biloxi, not far from the beach.
Moses has tried to emphasize to his members that God makes all things
new. "Katrina caused a disaster. In this we have an opportunity for new
things, for new life," he said.
UMCOR is providing two giving numbers through the Advance for Christ and
His Church for hurricane relief. Checks should be made out to UMCOR and
designated for "UMCOR Advance #982523 Hurricane Katrina" or "UMCOR
Advance #901323 Hurricane Rita." Both numbers or one number and the word
"both" can be given for general assistance.
Tax-deductible checks may be placed in church offering plates or mailed
directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Credit-card gifts
can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or going online to
*Woodrick is editor of the Mississippi Advocate , the newspaper of the United Methodist Church's Mississippi Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
2005 Hurricane Response: United Methodist Committee on Relief
RVs provide temporary homes for displaced pastors
UMCOR: Hurricanes 2005
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