Disaster’s Gifts The Gulf Coast Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Building a faith in the wake of Katrina
On July 4, 2005, this majestic oak on our property provided shade and nourishment to its small, determined congregation. One of our younger members, Elizabeth Kerlin, communes with the tree in its branches.
After Katrina, bereft of major limbs and many branches, the oak struggles to recover – as do we.
Future home of . . . • At our annual July 4th picnic we celebrated our ownership of property and discussed plans to begin construction of our new church. Little did we know . . .
An ill wind blew • What can’t be seen here is the 5 feet of storm surge that inundated our property on August 29, 2005. Plans to build here blew away in the wake of Katrina. • Friends from other Mississippi UU congregations joined us on October 15th to begin clean-up at our property.
A brief tour of part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. All along Highway 90, from Hancock County to Jackson County, scenes of devastation assault the eyes. The lovely old homes along the beach, the landmarks that defined our community, vanished.
The Grand Casino barge rests North of Highway 90. It originally “floated” in the Mississippi Sound since Mississippi law (pre-Katrina) allowed no land-based casinos. Katrina threw many of them onto land anyway. One crushed a hotel, another an historic landmark.
The loss of trees (at least 60% destroyed by the storm alone), homes, and landmarks was devastating.
“Hurricane proof” apartments. Maybe, but not storm surge proof.
Wendy’s is a slab. Ronald McDonald looks out to sea for all the burgers.
St. Peter’s By the Sea – recently constructed. Deconstructed by Katrina.
The skeleton of a brown pelican hangs from this tree. This was the sight of the BPOE; maybe it was the Elks Club. It has been difficult to remember what was where. The storm spared none of the Earth’s inhabitants. We are still waiting the return of many of our birds.
Most roads are now open. The landmarks, the old homes, the beautiful scenery that was once our Mississippi Gulf Coast – gone forever.
GCUUF member, Mike Kayes’ son’s home. Wind and storm surge tossed the contents and tore the home apart.
Note the water line above the clock. Ron’s home received 7 feet of storm surge.
The sky light was not an original feature. Other member’s homes, not pictured, were also lost. Gayle Dixon moved to Alabama when her home was destroyed. Richard Halloran was a resident of the Armed Forces Retirement Home and is currently living with his daughter while waiting for the government to decide to rebuild the AFH. Tony DeMartino was transferred to the Armed Forces Home in Washington, DC. He wants to come home. Bob & Keitha Whitaker’s son, Andy, lost his home. Andy is a New Orleans policeman. All along the Coast – from Texas to Alabama – we are connected by this tragedy.
And then, there were gifts • Mississippi UUs gathered in October to help us clean our property • Gift cards came to assist our congregation members • Cash – donated to help members who lost homes and property • Toys and personal hygiene kits to share with our community • Time and personal commitment • Offers of help and partnership from other UU churches
As we cleared the rubble from our property we enjoyed food, friendship, and made new connections with our Mississippi UU family.
By Christmas we were beginning to smile more and look forward to a New Year. GCUUF Members and Friends at our annual Christmas party, December 2005. Jay Starr, 1st row, second from right, brought life and energy into our congregation. Jay is an Upstate New York UU who came to work with HandsOn USA in our community. We have met many other UUs from all over the country who have come to work in the community and who have visited us on Sundays. We have been truly blessed.
Our new meeting space. We rented this store-front location in April 2006. It is small and not entirely adequate but it is the best that we could find in a post-Katrina market place. We began meeting here July 2nd and have welcomed 2 new members! We are continuing to search for new property on which to build our church.
We are seeing about 20 to 25 each Sunday in our new space. Two of our younger visitors enjoy cars and coloring books after the service.
Mary Beasley (actually an ex-New Yorker) wears our T-shirt bearing our Sunday morning benediction: “Go in Peace, Believe in Peace, Create Peace.” Peace be with you and may the love you share with us come back to you twenty fold.