“HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE, BE PREPARED”
I just saw this notice on the electronic street sign, flash backs started. Last year I was a hurricane innocent, moving from California to Houston after Ike. Earthquakes I knew, Hurricanes, zilch.
Looking back there was no way to really prepare for Harvey. Sure, the normal; get gas, food, medicines, be prepared to evacuate, those preparation helped… some. I remember calling two organizations that First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson helped with diapers and baby wipes. “Come get your supplies, they are in our narthex and might get wet.” With added comment, “You might need them before we could get them to you.” Boy was that an understatement. One of our affiliates, UTMB-Kid Launch, opened their doors and were greeted with diapers as big as beach balls floating everywhere. For us, a pair of brass candlesticks, our big bible, a communion table and diapers (stored in the balcony), were the only things to survive Hurricane Harvey.
Devastation caused by over 4’ of water to our lovely church was heart breaking. A struggling church to begin with, Harvey could have been the death knell for First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson. Not so, in fact, the out pouring of help, Holy Spirit inspired, has given new life and purpose to our church.
Before Harvey, people in town thought we had closed. The coverings for our stain glass windows were so old, we looked boarded up. The front sign barely emitted enough light for the sermon info to be advertised each week. To all who drove by, it looked like no one was home.
The first day we could get to the church, snakes and fish swam out the front door. Then was when even the strongest of heart, might have cried “Uncle”. But, God had a plan for us. The second day, people began to arrive. Over 60 “good souls” came to muck out and clean up. Clear Lake, Texas City, Webster, even people stranded from around the country came to help. Fuller Center for Disaster Rebuilders repaired the heating and air-conditioning, gutted and put back bathrooms, de-molded the ceiling. In three days, the sanctuary was gutted with all debris removed.
Barely had the debris been removed, when an 18-wheeler full of survival supplies pulled into our parking lot. On borrowed shelves, pallets and tables, the supplies were stacked ready for distribution. When we were done, over 646 people had received food, clothing, diapers, cleaning supplies, etc. On the heels of this relief effort, came a call from SAS/San Antonio Shoes, “We want to give people shoes,” “can you help?” Once again, we opened our gutted sanctuary for the biggest shoe giveaway SAS had done in one day. Last count, over 1800 people received 2000 pairs of shoes, T- shirts and socks. The constant stream of people lined up for supplies and shoes over the weeks revealed that we were alive and in the business of being Christ’s hands and feet to our community.
Every church on FM 517 had sustained damage, all found other places to worship. We stayed, on the lawn, visible to all who drove by. The first Sunday after Harvey was Communion. With borrowed Communion cups, plates, chairs and visiting college students providing music, we held worship. The Lord’s Supper, prayer and hope were given to all who stopped by. Some who stopped and worshiped that Sunday are still with us, others received comfort and moved on. The media even came. The Houston Chronicle did an article, The New York Times photographed our service and the pictures were relayed to other papers across the country. Our service streamed on Facebook. For 10 months, individuals, churches and organizations, have kept tabs on our ministry to this community. Always they are touched and respond with donations of materials, (bibles, hymn books, etc.) or monetary donations. Churches have adopted us and helped with our various ministries; the Christmas Closet, “Cheery Cheeks” (the diaper ministry that helps 85 families and over 200 infants), gift cards for sundries and building supplies and the quilt ministry.
Church groups have traveled to Dickinson to help with projects. The latest, a group of young people from First Presbyterian Church Mesquite, Texas. The L.I.F.E/ Living In Faith Everyday, bell and youth choirs, led worship with beautiful music, redesigned and planted the Memorial Garden, and did other heavy work that was beyond our capabilities.
Each week, God has provided so that we have been able to meet the needs of our hurting community. Harvey brought devastation and grief, but when I marvel at the wonders and miracles God has given us and to others through us, I am humbled. I am reminded of John 15, about the vine and the branches. Through Harvey, God cut off a lot of dead branches. No doubt, He pruned us. Clutter was swept away, sacred cows were discarded, the deadly, “We’ve always done it that way,” attitude completely gone. Hope is strong, recognition of God’s hand in our recovery is on everyone’s lips. Our ability alone is no longer a deterrent for ministry. Instead we pray, wait and watch then act as God reveals his plan. We’ve been stepping out in faith and have been reborn.
Alive and well, under construction, challenged but not daunted. Is First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson alive and moving forward? Gracing us with new members, baptisms and new ministries, God has made it clear, He has a purpose for us. The lights are on, stain glass windows can be seen clearly in the night, it is obvious God’s people are at home. Open and welcoming to all who are hurting. Open to all who are looking for a place to find peace, strength, fellowship and comfort, a place to call home.
Rev. Kathy Sebring, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church Dickinson, TX.