Mississippi Churches Thank Katrina Workers

September 02, 2010

By Lisa Cumbest Michiels*

Hurricane Katrina tore a gaping hole in the side of Mississippi City United Methodist Church in Gulfport. The organ was tossed upside down. On top was a worship book open to the "Hymn of Promise."
That was the hymn the congregation sang in a remembrance service Aug. 29.
The service was one of several throughout the state to give thanks to God and to the nearly 1 million, and counting, volunteers who have come and continue to come to rebuild homes on Mississippi's Gulf Coast. 
The United Methodist Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference has hosted more than 160,000 volunteers, who have worked on 12,000 homes and built over 100 new homes, saving struggling Gulf Coast homeowners some $100 million in labor costs. Many teams have returned again and again, some making as many as 20 trips. 
"Across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there was a deep sense of gratitude that filled United Methodist churches," said the Rev. Bill McAlilly, Seashore District superintendent, of the many worship services held on Aug. 29. "Today, we remember Hurricane Katrina and all those who have brought healing and hope."   
Giving thanks together
United Methodists were not alone.
Interfaith sunrise services were held in Pass Christian and Ocean Springs, and in Biloxi the rainy skies cleared just as nearly 100 gathered with local and national officials for a memorial service remembering those who died in the storm.
Students from local high schools read each of the 168 names of people who died as friends and family observed in silence. The names of those who lost their lives and those who are still missing are etched in the Katrina Monument located on Biloxi's Town Green.
The monument was built by the "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" television show. "This monument stands as a quiet reminder of the lost, the found and the moment that changed us forever," Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said. 
In Gulfport, Gov. Haley Barbour said, "Katrina didn't change the character and spirit of the people down here, but it let it be seen across the world."
Hands of faith
Members of Mississippi City United Methodist Church gathered with the community for a Katrina Memorial Celebration on the beach.
The Rev. Denise Donnell said it was important for the congregation to host the event for the community to know the church is here for them.
"The church cannot be confined to four walls," Donnell said. "It must leave the building and proclaim to the world that God is good all of the time, and all of the time, God is good!"
In D'Iberville, members of Heritage United Methodist Church held a 90-minute service of remembrance, thanksgiving and celebration, moving from darkness into light. The congregation continues to host volunteers at their church. 
Their service included a slide presentation of images before, during and after Katrina, followed by a time for personal witness.
Church member Ella Mae Weems closed her story by saying, "those who responded to help were the rod and staff of God." 
The Rev. Wayne Napier added: "God had us lie down in green pastures, led us beside still waters, restored our souls and was leading us in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake. We truly are the rod and the staff of God. We just look like ordinary people."
*Michiels is director of communications of the United Methodist Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference.

For more stories, photos and resources be sure to visit the "Special Coverage: Hurricane Katrina - Five Years Later " website.