Remembering Katrina: Mississippi Episcopalians pause in rebuilding to remember

August 27, 2006

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall nearly one year ago, the Rev. Harold Roberts and his wife, Janice, were among thousands left homeless when the historic Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, Mississippi, and its rectory were completely leveled. Redeemer was one of six Episcopal churches destroyed along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Roberts, Redeemer's rector for more than 10 years, joined other Episcopal clergy and leaders from several denominations and faiths along the Gulf Coast August 27 for "Hands Across the Coast," one of many observances taking place in the Diocese of Mississippi in remembrance of Katrina.

"In many faith traditions, the anniversary of a death is a time to come together and grieve and then officially move on," said Roberts. "Today, we offered a time to do that through a moment of silence [and] coming together in thanksgiving."

Similar observances were held by other coastal churches on the beach or along the Mississippi coast's Highway 90 in anticipation of the event.

More than 200 people joined Roberts, Mississippi Bishop Duncan M. Gray III and Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Rodi at 3 p.m. on the lawn at Redeemer where they were met from both directions by other groups walking to join hands. Beginning with Roberts, the group raised their clasped hands as cars slowed in their passing along Highway 90.

After two minutes, Roberts and Gray began clapping. Others joined in, while some embraced a friend or neighbor. Many had tears in their eyes.

Roberts has had to endure many of the same hardships as the thousands of other Mississippians who returned to their homes and businesses to find nothing left but rubble. After the storm made landfall on August 29, 2005 several miles east of Biloxi, near the cities of Bay St. Louis/Waveland and Pass Christian, Roberts made his way back toward the beach and viewed the grounds of Redeemer from about half a block away.

"My spiritual life was changed by this storm," Roberts said. "I look at things differently now."

"It's been a slow process to get to this point," said Melissa Lucas, a member of Redeemer. "But we're getting there, with help from family and friends; we're getting together to rebuild and relocate."

A year after the storm destroyed her home, Lucas is still living in a small FEMA trailer. The paperwork involved in the rebuilding process has been difficult to deal with and the city may force Lucas to divide her land before allowing her to rebuild. But even in the face of these challenges, she remains hopeful.

With her arm entwined around her friend's waist, she summed up the past twelve months.

"We're alive and here, and we have a lot to be thankful for," Lucas said.

"Hands Across the Coast" was only one of several observances in the Diocese of Mississippi August 27. Special liturgies and Prayers of the People were distributed to diocesan clergy and partnering churches across the nation.

Gray attended a morning service for St. Patrick's, Long Beach, in the chapel on the site of the church ruins. Shortly after noon, he arrived at the new location of St. Mark's, Gulfport, for the official groundbreaking for their new construction off East Taylor Road.

Gray will participate in more events along the Mississippi Coast and in New Orleans on Monday, August 28 and Tuesday, August 29.