Evacuating their homes and offices in Houston in advance of Hurricane Rita's expected landfall, the bishop and several staff members of the Diocese of Texas have relocated to Camp Allen, the diocesan conference center in Navasota.
"We're on the road, and it's taken three-and-a-half hours to travel 26 miles," Carol Barnwell, diocesan communication director, said from her cell phone. The usual four-hour drive to Dallas is now more than 10 hours, Barnwell said, adding that her cat and dog were with her en route.
Barnwell said the Diocese of Washington (D.C.) will host a web page should the Texas diocesan website become disabled. The address is likely to be: http://www.edow.org/.
Bishop Don Wimberly, together with the diocese's canon to the ordinary, an administrative assistant, and Barnwell are relocating operations to Camp Allen, while Archdeacon Dean Harrison has relocated to Austin with the backup files for the diocesan office.
Wimberly is present in Texas and of necessity unable to attend the current House of Bishops meeting, which opened today in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with hurricane relief foremost on the agenda. Bishop Duncan Gray of Mississippi, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, and Bishop Philip Duncan of the Pensacola-based Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, brought updates during the morning session, while Louise Jenkins, wife of the bishop, addressed the concurrent gathering of bishops' spouses.
"There is much uncertainty preceding the actual landfall," Barnwell said. "The bishop is very concerned for the congregations and called all of them yesterday to touch base" and exchange emergency cell phone numbers.
Camp Allen is housing residents of the diocesan nursing home and another nursing home from Baytown, Barnwell said, noting that many other people are taking refuge there, as well.
Barnwell said two different energy companies have set up operations at Camp Allen, so electricity is likely to be maintained on site.
The Houston diocese has been engaged in extensive ministry with evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, with relief ongoing even as Texas Episcopalians are now facing the possibility of local devastation themselves.
Said Barnwell: "We appreciate your prayers."
The Diocese of Texas covers over 49,000 square miles and includes 57 counties in the southeastern portion of the state and serves more than 83,348 Episcopalians in 159 missionary outposts (churches) within its geographical boundaries.