U-C: What I See

Monday, September 06, 2004

What happens when a hurricane takes your church?

On Thursday the 2nd, I visited with the Pastor Steve Mock and several of his parishioners at First Presbyterian Church in Punta Gorda. This church lost it's entire sanctuary and much of it's offices and classrooms as well. Steve was gracious as he led me on a tour of what used to be the church's worship space.

Here are a few thoughts of my own on the experience:

  • Steve reflected on the challenge of trying to think of what to do in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Five or six members of the congregation gathered in the ruins of their church on Sunday morning, the day after the storm went through. Actually, that's not true. They gathered in front of the building, but as Steve reflected as they worshipped under a tent in the parking lot the following week, it's the people who are the church - not the building.
  • The Peace River Presbytery immediately went into action even before the storm hit. They formed a committee to act as the local hands and feet of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and within a couple of days after the Hurricane they had organized Stephen's Ministers, Elders and Deacons to do a house to house canvass of more than eight hundred members of the four Presbyterian Churches most impacted by the Hurricane. Members lost their homes, their belongings, and for many - their confidence was badly shaken. The Presbytery was praised across the board for their fast action and pastoral support.
  • Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has commited $40,000 to the Presbytery and $10,000 to each of the churches most affected. This matters, because it's one more example of the way that our connectional church and our commitment to unified giving makes a real difference in people's lives.
  • Finally, I was struck in each of the churches I visited by their commitment to turn this very real disaster into an opportunity. The church in Port Charlotte has completely revamped their early childhood center into a support system for those in their community who have the greatest need. Their own space was uninhabitable after the storm, but even as they crowded into temporary quarters in the church's fellowship hall, they were redesigning their program for the coming year to include older children in before and after school care and they were reaching out to the neighborhoods around them. Chapel by the Sea, Burnt Store Presbyterian Church, First Churches in Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, and Aracadia were all looking for the ways in which God is opening doors for them even in the midst of such tragedy.

Kinda makes me proud to be Presbyterian.