"You are St. Mark’s Church," Dean James Bo Roberts tells his congregation during a service, surrounded by scenes of devastation at the ruins of the oldest Episcopal church on the Mississippi coast, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Surrounded by scenes of devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina, more than 50 parishioners of St. Mark’s Church here were joined by police, military and relief workers Sept. 4, as they worshipped on the site where their church once stood.
“You are St. Mark’s church,” said Dean James Bo Roberts as he addressed the congregation. “You are the spirit of St. Mark’s Church. It’s you who have to stand for Jesus. It’s you who will bring us back as we once were.”
Built in 1846, St. Mark’s is the oldest Episcopal church on the Mississippi coast and one of six that were completely destroyed after Katrina hit Aug. 29.
“Although the church is not standing physically,” Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi explained, “spiritually the church continues to stand and we will continue to do the work that God has called us to do.”
Despite the dangers involved, Mr. Roberts remained in his Gulfport rectory as Katrina pounded the coast, because “I wanted to be where I could check on my people and be available to them.”
“It’s time for us to reach out to one another; to try and renew our faith, increase our strength and our relation to God,” said Mr. Roberts. “Walking in the presence of Christ, we’ll be able to recover from the ruins that we find ourselves in today.”
The first priority, said Bishop Gray, is to give the local clergy some stability so that they can return to the area. “We need to make sure they have a place to live,” he said.
Episcopal Relief and Development sent immediate assistance to the diocese, where some parishes have become disaster shelters.
“This is certainly one of the most devastating things that I have been a part of,” said Rev. Rob Dewey from the diocese of South Carolina, who works with the U.S. government’s Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. “But the local folks are resilient.”
There was an outpouring of offers from Episcopalians across America to assist the victims.