Remembering Katrina: Darkness into Day campaign working to restore Church on Gulf Coast

August 23, 2006

One year after Hurricane Katrina, Episcopal churches along the Gulf Coast are struggling to rebuild. To assist them, a national appeal to support the restoration of the church's presence in Mississippi and Louisiana is reaching out to individuals, congregations and dioceses to provide badly needed resources.

While Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) works to restore devastated communities and Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) helps to relocate families to new communities [related story], the Darkness into Day campaign is targeting the church's infrastructure and rebuilding efforts.

The appeal has set a goal to raise $6.5 million in its first phase to reconstruct church buildings, ensure compensation for clergy while congregations regain self-sufficiency, and support essential ministries of churches and the dioceses.

"The appeal is a unique partnership between the foundation, the dioceses of Mississippi and Louisiana and the Episcopal Church, said Donald Romanik, president of the Episcopal Church Foundation. By August 9, Darkness into Day had raised $1.2 million, he said.

Phase II of the campaign will focus on the significant building needs of the churches, according to the campaign's website. More than 30 percent of Episcopal churches in the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi were damaged by Katrina.

"The effort to repair and rebuild Episcopal infrastructure will take decades and tens of millions of dollars," according to an overview of the campaign posted on its website.

In the Diocese of Louisiana, 35 churches were affected, 17 seriously. Every church in New Orleans was damaged. Deductibles and uninsured losses add up to nearly $4.8 million. Meeting the deductibles is a hard task for many churches.

In Mississippi, every church on the Gulf Coast was affected. Six churches were completely destroyed, and five churches and one school were damaged. Many churches cannot plan their rebuilding efforts until local governments determine guidelines for reconstruction in the region.

"Recognizing that this is the largest demographic shift in so short a time in the history of the United States, church leaders have to assess where new churches or expanded ministries will be most valuable in the long term. Phase II initiatives will be communicated after more details have been finalized," the website says.

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, was one of the first congregations to participate in the appeal, according to Rebecca McDonald, Episcopal Church Foundation marketing director. The Rev. Robert Alves, rector, invited Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi to visit last winter to talk about the far-reaching impact of Katrina on his diocese.

Parishioners responded by sending volunteers to assist in the recovery effort. Through first-hand experience, they saw the extent of the damage to families and communities, including the church, Alves said.

"There was a real need to help clergy during these critical times," she said. "The foundation stepped up to fill the gap."

The people of St. Barnabas committed $75,000 to Darkness into Day to provide for clergy compensation at Christ Church in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, one of six Mississippi churches destroyed by Katrina.

At the time of the hurricane, the congregation was searching for a new rector. One of the candidates, the Rev. Elizabeth Wheatley, felt called to come and minister in this community, even knowing she would face unprecedented challenges.

"It's important not only that congregations receive financial support to rebuild and move forward, but that the wider church stands with us at this critical time," said Gray.

When Darkness into Day was launched, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold praised Episcopalians for reaching out in unprecedented ways to provide relief, financial support and volunteer help for the victims of Katrina. "Dioceses and congregations around the country are developing new models of partnerships to provide both financial and volunteer support," he said.

The appeal gives opportunities to individuals, congregations and dioceses who seek specific ways to connect with congregations in need, McDonald explained. For example, she said, St. Luke's Episcopal Church in New Orleans is struggling to survive.

"A historic and highly regarded congregation, the church was flooded by Katrina, and every parishioner save one lost their homes," she said. "Several parishioners perished, including a lay Eucharistic minister and his family. Funds are urgently needed to repair the roof, provide for the rector's salary and for critical ministry funds." (Episcopal Relief and Development is equipping part of the property as a housing facility for volunteers.)

For more information, contact: Darkness into Day Campaign Office, 1888 Main Street, Ste. C, Box 365, Madison, MS 39110, call 866-530-1093, email or visit