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The Promise and Power of PlaceBy Steve Bishop
Ten years out and the scars left by Hurricane Katrina are still visible on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Much attention has been rightfully directed to New Orleans during this time of remembrance. It was the most populated city to suffer the effects of the storm due to poor levee design. The loss of life and the displacement of thousands of people still effect those rebuilding their lives and communities.
In the reporting on this tenth anniversary less coverage has been given to the effects of Katrina all along the Mississippi Gulf coast. Buildings were swept out to sea, flooding affected many more people. Thousands experienced displacement and loss.
In January 2006 I travelled to Long Beach, Mississippi with four seminarians to assist in the Episcopal Relief effort. One of the four had special ties to Long Beach, having served as a youth minister there and then discerning his call to ordained ministry in the midst of a loving community. The church building was located near the beach. After Katrina it was gone. What was salvaged was miraculous. An alabaster statue of the Blessed Virgin that survived the destruction of the church in 1969 by Hurricane Camille was recovered, as well as altar linens and vessels. When we arrived all we saw was an empty slab of concrete marking the place where the church once stood and where the faithful once gathered for worship and fellowship.
An outdoor chapel survived largely intact. Benches and a stone altar stood as a sign of hope for the parishioners there. They still had a place, a familiar place to gather for worship and comfort. We participated in a Eucharistic service there; undoubtedly, one of the most moving I’ve ever experienced. Tears flowed as St. Patrick’s parishioners received the sacraments underneath live oak trees that somehow withstood the storm. As clean up continued discussion about the future of the parish began.
The church has since rebuilt on higher ground and the statue of the Blessed Virgin once again resides in the church. Just as the Judeans returned from Babylon with salvaged Temple vessels to rebuild the Temple, so the congregants of St. Patrick’s returned with their salvaged vessels to raise up a building as testimony to their faith.
Whether it is the 6th century BC or the 21st century AD, ‘place’ holds a deep and abiding emotional and spiritual grip on our hearts. The ‘place’ of our baptism or the ‘place’ where our family gathered become symbolic in our minds of connection to a particular time in our life. ‘Place’ is part of the story of our lives. To lose a ‘place’ of spiritual significance is painful. To join with others to rebuild strengthens bonds of community. St. Patrick’s is a living example of how ‘place’ draws us together around common dreams and memory.
What places hold significance for you and why?
Rev. David Knight, rector of St. Patrick’s when Katrina hit, put together this remembrance of the early stages of relief work.
Dr. Steve Bishop is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Seminary of the Southwest. Steve served as an ordained minister in the Church of Christ prior to undertaking graduate studies. Steve’s academic interests include the poetry of the Hebrew Bible and literary translations of it into English.
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