Florida's Episcopal churches and their people are evacuating or battening down their property in preparation for Hurricane Frances' expected arrival. Landfall is expected at Melbourne in southern Brevard County by Saturday morning.
Coastal churches and Episcopal schools are closed, and some are preparing to serve as last-minute havens for evacuees from beachfront communities. "We will be open as a shelter," said Barbara McCaughey, executive assistant at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, on the mainland four miles from Melbourne beaches. "We're telling people to bring their own supplies, but to come here if they need a place."
Holy Trinity's new parish building was built less than three years ago, so it conforms to post-Hurricane Andrew construction standards. "It's built to withstand a hurricane, but Lord only knows," McCaughey said.
The Rev. Meg Ingalls, rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Fruitland Park, also has offered shelter to coastal residents. Fruitland Park is about 80 miles inland. Canterbury Retreat & Conference Center, 35 miles inland in Oviedo, also will be open as a shelter.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning for the east coast of Florida from Florida City northward to Flagler Beach, including Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect for the middle and upper Florida Keys from south of Florida City to the Seven Mile Bridge, including Florida Bay. A hurricane warning remains in effect for all of the Bahamas.
On the initiative of Mary Cox, communications officer for the Diocese of Southeast Florida, the state's Episcopal communicators in the dioceses of Southeast Florida, Southwest Florida, Central Florida and Jacksonville-based Florida have a cooperative agreement to make communications resources available to each other if disasters including hurricanes knock out local communications.
"At this point, any of us could be in a bad way by Saturday, but I just wanted to say that if we're the ones left with our roofs intact and our ability to get online, let me know what you need and I'll try to help in any way I can," Cox wrote to her Florida colleagues. "We've got teams that have already had some practice with cleanup in Punta Gorda, so we're geared up --to the extent possible -- to help, either in your backyards or our own."
Province IV assembles
In the wake of Hurricane Charley August 13, Sharon Jones, former director of the Orlando-based Episcopal Counseling Center, called an organizational meeting of a group calling itself the Disaster Relief Conference of Province IV. The province covers the southeastern United States. The group met at Canterbury in Oviedo August 26-28.
The meeting included disaster-relief coordinators designated by their bishops as representatives. Goals adopted include the creation of a "portable church" to be mobilized to parishes whose sanctuary is badly damaged.
"When there is no crisis, it could be used to establish a new church or taken to youth gatherings," Jones said. "The other goal is that each diocese will have in place by June 1, 2005 a disaster plan. There will be a follow-up meeting at the same time next year to assess progress."
FIND continues work
Florida Episcopalians are pitching in with disaster relief through Orlando-based Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND). Orlando priest the Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder is an active member of the FIND board of directors. "The news report 'Hurricane Frances barrels down on weary Florida' -- Yes, I think that is accurate," said FIND director Jody Hill. "We have all worked hard to respond to the needs of those affected by Hurricane Charley. The faith and nonprofit response has been amazing."
More than 37,000 care-giving volunteers have responded through 79 faith and social organizations and allied agencies, Hill said, adding that the collective effort has already:
- Protectively covered 4,611 homes/debris removal for more than 10,000 residents.
- Provided 736 crisis support contacts as of August 26, including Sharon Jones and other staff of the Episcopal Counseling Center.
- Gathered faith and social organizational leaders together to raise up needs and identify resources to meet those needs.
"As much of our concern and energies are sadly being invested in Frances, we are not losing focus on moving forward to develop and enhance community interfaith and interagency networks throughout the impacted path," Hill said. "Continued thanks to each of you for all that you have done and continue to do to assist those impacted by Hurricane Charley and for whatever you reach out to do to assist others to prepare for Frances."