Presiding Bishop Curry's visit to Harvey-affected DWTX

After Presiding Bishop Michael. B. Curry entered Trinity by the Sea, Port Aransas, to applause and handshakes and bright smiles and a standing ovation, the voices of little children giggling and chattering and whispering greeted him in the front of the church. It was weekly chapel time for Trinity Day School on Wednesday, February 28.

pb-trinity-porta-feb28.18.jpgRector of Trinity by the Sea, the Rev. James Derkits, asked the children to raise their hands if they lived in Port Aransas when Hurricane Harvey hit last August. All of their little arms shot up into the air, and one small boy said to Derkits, “I was! He destroyed my house, and yours!”

Following the reading of the children’s-version Bible story when Jesus called his first disciples, Curry told the children, “Jesus called fishermen, and they stopped what they were doing and they followed him.”

“I love to fish; I caught a big fish,” said another little boy with his arms outstretched.

“Yes,” said Curry, engaging the child with bright eyes and a wide smile, “Jesus invites all of us to follow him. He wants us to learn how to love God as much as he loves us.

“Who knows ‘Jesus loves me?’ Do I see some ukuleles? Come on up, let’s sing,” shouted Curry. And with the music from three ukuleles, the children and adults and Curry, and Bishops David Reed and Jennifer Brooke-Davidson all joined in singing the beloved song.

These beautiful and moving moments provided such joy during the Presiding Bishop’s visit to the Diocese of West Texas to tour the Hurricane Harvey-affected areas in the Southern and Eastern Convocations on February 27-28. Curry was joined by Sharon Jones, his executive assistant; the Rev. Deacon Geoffrey Smith, chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church; Josephine Hicks, vice president of Episcopal Church Programs for Episcopal Relief and Development; and Neel Lane, chair of the Board for Episcopal Relief and Development and member of St. Paul’s, San Antonio.

Thirteen area clergy participated in the tour, as well as Bishop David Reed, Bishop Suffragan Jennifer Brooke-Davidson, and Canon to the Ordinary Kirk Mason. Jennifer Wickham, the bishop’s deputy for disaster recovery, organized the visit, as well as the events that took place along the tour of the Coastal Bend.

cc-78405-feb28.18.jpgCurry and his team were welcomed for a box dinner at Calvary First Baptist Church in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, February 27. Calvary Church is located in the zip code 78405, where over the past year, the Rev. Bruce Wilson, head of the Coalition of Corpus Christi Churches, has been building relationships and friendships in the under-served area of the city.

Around 50 residents of the “New Addition” in 78405 were present for the dinner, which incorporated a workshop and a survey for them to complete on the next steps in bringing life back to their neighborhood. This ABCD – Asset-Based Community Development – approach brings awareness to the assets in place to help address challenges. Violet Russell, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, said the motto, “We from the new, we know what to do,” was adopted because “there has never been a child in these streets that didn’t have a church home. We always went to church and we always prayed, and finally, the Lord sent Father Bruce.”

During this time of strengthening the community, Hurricane Harvey hit and caused damage to fragile homes and left a big mess. The group formed with Wilson’s leadership used 20 donated chain saws and started clearing trees and limbs from every single yard. Bishop Charles Richardson, Sr., pastor of Calvary Church, said, “I saw people helping people who had no relationship; God truly uses his own assets.” 

Curry was informed of other collaborative projects in the neighborhood, and before offering a blessing, he told the residents, “Thank you for what you’re doing. I, too, have done ministry in a forgotten place, and you can’t do it alone. Together, you can, keep on going.”

pbtour-feb28.18.jpgOn Wednesday morning, February 28, the group gathered at Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi, for coffee and breakfast and to board the tour bus for the day. The first stop was Mustang Island Conference Center, and after an introduction on the space was given by Mason, the team was met by Rob Watson, diocesan director for Camps and Conferences; Kevin Spaeth, site director; and Kathy Jansen, director of food services. The conference center was designed by Richter Architects and has since been used as a prime example of how to build a sustainable structure on a barrier island. 

Back on the tour bus, the participating clergy and Wickham took turns informing Curry and the team from Episcopal Relief and Development about each local situation post-Harvey, as well their personal experiences when the storm hit.

pb-micc-feb28.18.jpg“From day one, being part of a larger body was the best connection,” said the Rev. Sean Maloney, rector of St. Bartholomew’s, Corpus Christi. “The Southern Convocation put forth the effort to connect and keep getting together to work through this every day.”

The Rev. Stephen Carson, rector of St. Francis, Victoria, said the main problem post Harvey in the Eastern Convocation was figuring out where everyone was. Members and residents were displaced across the state. Thanks to some volunteers in Dripping Springs who took St. Francis’ database, every parishioner of that church was called the next day.

Victoria is still dealing with the affects of the flooding that Harvey produced. Carson serves as the Victoria police chaplain and on a committee with the Long-Term Relief effort for Victoria, which meets every week to continue to figure out how to aid residents.

On the journey to Port Aransas, Derkits said when he and his wife, Laura, were first entering the town after Harvey, Laura said, “Port Aransas is about to see what the Episcopal Church is all about.” 

“We knew Trinity would have the support we needed, and we would be ready to hit the ground running,” said Derkits. And that they did by opening up the soggy Parish Hall to house supplies and by opening up the church each and every day beginning on August 29, four days after Harvey made landfall, for Morning Prayer at 8:00 a.m. The services are still held and streamed live on Trinity by the Sea’s Facebook page. Jennifer and the Rev. Jonathan Wickham (rector, All Saints, Corpus Christi) were in Port Aransas two days after the storm and set in place the community’s recovery efforts.

After the delightful experience with children’s chapel, the team heard from Walter Sohl, who was the creator of Homes for Displaced Marlins, a program that ended up raising close to $1 million to purchase 43 RVs to bring home displaced families. After his presentation, Reed said, “You just showed your passion and energy and love with the same emotion as the day I first met you with this idea in August. Thank you for your ongoing commitment.”

“We have seen a lot of miracles and a whole lot of grace,” said Derkits. Plans for the re-building effort include a new building for the day school and a new outreach building on the church campus as part of the church’s “Cast wide the Net” capital campaign that was supposed to begin the week after Harvey. “Our net has been cast so much wider, we’ve integrated deeper into this community,” said Derkits. “And some insurance money will help with the new buildings, and Harvey provided the demo work for us.”

oursavior-aransaspass-feb28.18.jpgAs the group headed for Rockport, the Rev. Beverly Patterson, canon missioner for the Coastal Bend Partners in Ministry (Our Savior, Aransas Pass; St. Andrew’s, Corpus Christi; and St. Christopher’s, Portland) said Aransas Pass was hit the hardest. “Between the church and the rectory that we use as a rental property, we have had over $55,000 in damage. We are still knee-deep in repairs – the church and the town – with roof repairs, flooring replacement, and other construction.”

The church has about 15 members, most from established families in the town, and they are “doing so much of the work on their own,” said Patterson. “Aransas Pass doesn’t have a large number of tourists or a large number of second homes, so the town often gets overlooked.”

St. Christopher’s, Portland, sustained minimal damage, so the church has opened its doors to the First United Methodist congregation, which lost its roof during Harvey.

The Rev. Gina Frnka, Canon Missioner for the Eastern Partnership in Ministry, said, “Refugio was obviously the most damaged, as was the community and those of Bayside and Woodsboro.” She was grateful for the immediate help of St. David’s, San Antonio, and a church in Dallas, but she said the congregation is “still trying to raise the funds to pay our insurance deductible so we can have a contractor start on our large repairs.” 

The last leg of the tour was in Rockport. Before seeing the sites, a Community Eucharist was held at St. Peter’s, Rockport, where a couple hundred folks gathered to hear Curry preach.

“I am here today to assure you of the prayers and the long-term commitment of the whole Episcopal Church to help you re-build. We don’t forget. We don’t quit. We are not sprinters, we are long-distance runners, and we are with you for the long haul,” Curry said.

Referencing the reading from 2 Corinthians 5:16-16:2, Curry said, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and he has given us the ministry of reconciliation. We are a family, like it or not, but that is what God made us for, that is who we are, that is what Jesus of Nazareth came to show us and teach us.”

“I know Bishop Reed has asked you all to read the whole Bible this year. I will tell you, I think the whole point of the Bible,” said Curry waving his arms in his emphatic style, “is God’s urgent desire to reconcile us to him. That is the point of Jesus, to show us how to be reconciled to God and to our neighbor.”

“When was it, Lord, that we gave you something to drink, something to eat, that we visited you in prison,” said Curry referencing the Gospel reading of Matthew 25:31-40, “when my house was destroyed in a storm named Harvey and you gave me a RV? When Lord?”

“Jesus came to show us how to love one another and become the human family of God,” said Curry, “and when we live as sisters and brothers and we care of one another, we will be in a different kind of world.”

pb-st.peters_feb28.18.jpgDuring the service, Curry presented a beautiful handmade quilt that was made by a group of ladies from an Episcopal Church in Marathon, Florida, in the Diocese of Southeast Florida, especially for West Texas during our shared recovery from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Following the service, two members of the Rockport Chamber of Commerce joined the team on the tour bus and narrated the drive around the community, where Harvey had produced a 13-hour hurricane-force wind event with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts up to 180. “We are still in need of an influx of cash. We need to re-vitalize the community by supporting our small businesses, which are starting to re-open one by one.”

Six apartment complexes were destroyed in Rockport, leaving many of the local workers without a place to live. “The real challenge is the economic impact when you live in such a rural area,” said Jennifer Wickham. But a drive through the neighborhoods showed many homes still in great need of repair, as well. Over three million cubic yards of debris have been removed from Rockport, and that does not include destroyed houses. 

The travel day ended with refreshments back at Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi, where Curry re-emphasized the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the diocese. Gratefulness was shown for Episcopal Relief and Development, for the immediate communication, visits, and grants for recovery, as well as for additional grants and more to come.

“I keep having experiences through all this recovery that has increased the knowledge of God’s presence in our community and in my life,” said Derkits. “It’s been grace upon grace upon grace, and that is so much more powerful than the storm itself.”


Pictures by John Gaskins (Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi). See all pictures here.