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Episcopal church converted to emergency response hub after deadly California mudslides

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 6:37pm

 

A California National Guard humvee is parked outside All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito, California, where the church was being used this week as a triage center for paramedics and as an evacuation site by the National Guard. Photo: All Saints

[Episcopal News Service] Sunday worship services at All Saints-by-the Sea Episcopal Church proceeded as scheduled on Jan. 7, as a storm loomed in the forecast.

Since then, deadly mudslides and flooding have turned life upside-down in Montecito, California. At least 17 people are dead, and this tight-knit ocean-side community next to Santa Barbara is under a mandatory evacuation order as emergency crews search for survivors and victims, restore utilities and beginning cleaning up the mud and debris that damaged and destroyed homes in their path.

All Saints was spared the worst of the damage but has no power or phone service, and the natural gas was shut off to allow repair crews to begin their work, said Sheri Benninghoven, a parishioner who has led communication efforts for the congregation. The parish’s school is closed, and worship services are canceled until further notice.

The work of the Lord continued this week, however, as the church grounds became a triage center for people injured in the disaster, and Benninghoven said church leaders estimated hundreds of people descended on the church during the heart of the emergency – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – seeking medical help and, eventually, evacuation assistance from the California National Guard, which staged operations from All Saints.

“I think we’re all somewhat in shock. I think a lot of people are doing things based on adrenaline,” Benninghoven told Episcopal News Service by phone.  “This is stunning and remarkable for everybody. This community has been hit really, really hard, and we will always think back to this week and no one will ever be the same.”

Authorities issued the first of the evacuation orders for parts of Montecito on Jan. 7 anticipating the rains that posed a thread of mudslides from the water cascading down the mountainside on the northern edge of this unincorporated community of about 9,000 people. The threat of devastation was heightened this winter because of the damage done by the Thomas Fire, which last year grew to become the largest wildfire in California’s history.

The fire stopped short of Montecito, but with the ground cover in the higher elevations cleared and charred by the blaze, conditions were ripe for disaster when rain started falling Jan. 8 and early Jan. 9.

Before sunrise Jan. 9, authorities started receiving 911 calls from Montecito residents trapped in their homes by the mud flows, Benninghoven said, and since All Saints’ neighborhood was on the south side of Highway 101 and out of the path of the flows, it became a gathering place for first responders and victims.

“Those rescuers couldn’t get those victims outside the area, so they brought them down to All Saints,” she said.

First responders gather at All Saints-by-the-Sea, which served as a temporary triage center for residents of Montecito, California, who were injured in the mudslides. Photo: All Saints

The Rev. Aimee Eyer-Delevett, the rector, lives on the grounds with her wife, and they began early Jan. 9 assisting evacuees. They opened the parish hall as a place for residents to rest and clean themselves up. The church had some food in a fridge, and they boiled water for coffee.

The injured were taken to the nave of the church to be attended to by paramedics. Helicopters were able to land on church grounds and take those who were severely injured to a hospital in Santa Barbara.

Because people living near the church were isolated and could not get to safe places, the church became “a safe place and a rallying place” for those people, said the Rev. Michael Bamberger, a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners in Response team and the disaster coordinator for the Diocese of Los Angeles.

A doctor happens to live in a rental house on the church campus, and she was called in to help treat people.

“God puts people in the places that they’re supposed to be,” Benninghoven said.

#CAstorm– Aerial photos taken aboard Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit’s Fire Copter 308 showing mudflow and damage in Montecito. Photos by Matt Udkow/Santa Barbara County FD. pic.twitter.com/XfQo0NMD4o

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 11, 2018

Because the neighborhood was now surrounded by mud and Highway 101 was impassable, people could not get in or out, but church leaders conducted regular conference calls to coordinate efforts and communications. Benninghoven, safe at her home in Santa Barbara, took the lead in posting information and updates for the congregation on its website and Facebook page and through regular emails to parishioners.

She and other church leaders also reached out to residents in the neighborhood, asking them to help any way they could, and dozens of them showed up at the church with food, blankets and clothes.

“You just want to cry,” Benninghoven said. “It was really just remarkable. It touches your heart. … They were serving as God’s hands and feet. It’s what we learn about on Sundays, and they just knew it was what their job was on this particular day.”

The National Guard arrived late Wednesday to facilitate a new mandatory evacuation for the whole community, Benninghoven said.

Residents of Montecito, California, prepare to climb into a military vehicle as part of evacuations after mudslides devastated the community next to Santa Barbara. Photo: All Saints

Residents at All Saints loaded onto military transport vehicles and were taken about four miles northwest to a shopping center in Santa Barbara, from which they could then proceed to a Red Cross shelter at Santa Barbara City College or find their own temporary accommodations.

Eyer-Delevett and her wife left to stay at a home in Santa Barbara, and other church leaders also have followed the order to evacuation. They left the parish hall open for some neighbors who chose not to flee, but otherwise, church operations have shut down since the National Guard wrapped up its evacuations from All Saints late Jan. 11.

The evacuation order is expected to be in effect for one or two weeks, but the church is hoping to reopen sooner, once Highway 101 is cleared.

The congregation remains active from a distance. Parishioners are invited to attend Sunday services on Jan. 14 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara if they are on that side of Montecito. Any parishioners who are on the opposite side of Montecito are invited to a home church service hosted by All Saints’ associate rector, the Rev. Victoria Kirk Mouradian.

Church leaders also are looking ahead to providing pastoral care for victims of the mudslides, many of whom lost their homes. Of the 17 fatalities, none has been identified as an All Saints parishioner, though it was not yet possible to determine if parishioners are among the five unidentified people who authorities said were still missing as of Jan. 12.

Benninghoven said the congregation, with about 1,000 members, has been assembling lists with the location of as many as they can. The congregation is “cautiously optimist” that all will be confirmed alive, she said, but parishioners are still profoundly affected by the tragedy of so many dead neighbors. “That is hitting everybody very, very hard.”

Bamberger said the diocese, with the help of Episcopal Relief & Development, is supporting relief efforts in the area. And they are looking towards what will be a long recovery time. In late February, clergy and lay leaders in the fire- and flood-affected areas will meet for a day of “spiritual debriefing,” Bamberger said.

Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Diane Jardine Bruce, Episcopal Relief & Development Preparedness Training Coordinator Lura Steele and the Rev. Russ Oechsel, Diocese of Texas archdeacon and a member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Partners is Response team, will help with the day. Participants will also discuss pastoral care during long-term recovery.

#CAstorm– Firefighters perform secondary searches Friday on homes damaged and destroyed by deadly rain and mudflow early Tuesday in Montecito. pic.twitter.com/Ka8VFnDlNA

— SBCFireInfo (@EliasonMike) January 12, 2018

Montecito is a wealthy community. The average annual income in 2016 was $138,872, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and it is home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and actor Jeff Bridges. However, the Rev. Melissa McCarthy, Los Angeles canon to the ordinary, told Episcopal News Service via telephone early on Jan. 12 that disasters such as this touch everyone.

Some people have more resources, including insurance, but “nothing can spare them form the emotional trauma of this.”

Mud covers the yard and cakes the side of a home in Montecito, California, after rains sent rivers of dirt and debris down the mountain-side and into the community on Jan. 9. Photo: All Saints

And, Montecito has workers in its restaurants and residents’ homes who “when their town shuts down, they are the people who suffer.”

McCarthy said the diocese especially wants to help the most-vulnerable people in the aftermath of the floods. They include homeless people, the working poor (including some clergy members, she said) who live paycheck to paycheck, and “anybody who is afraid to go ask for resources and help, particularly undocumented people.”

Bamberger said the diocese is continuing to use an assets-based community development approach for discerning a congregation’s potential ministries to meet the needs of their surrounding communities, including after disasters. They ask, “where is the church already being the church, doing the work of the church, and how can we help them be even more effective?”

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is interim managing editor of the Episcopal News Service. David Paulsen is an editor and reporter and can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Bishop of California response to President’s remarks on Haiti, other nations

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:55pm

[Episcopal Diocese of California] The Diocese of California has developed, since the Haiti earthquake of 2010, a close relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. The Diocese of Haiti is a full and equal member of the Episcopal Church, every bit as much a member of this religious family as California and every bit as much a member of our hemisphere as the United States. I personally have made six trips to Haiti to come to know, understand and work together with Haitians for their own rebuilding after the earthquake.

Haiti, I have come to learn, is an admirable nation, a great people. The most lucrative slave colony in the Caribbean – so profitable because of the intense brutality used on first the Native Americans and then the African slaves brought in chains to work there – Haiti threw off its European overlords, the first successful slave rebellion since the classical Roman period. From that remarkable beginning in a crucible of revolution, Haiti has sought a path forward that inspired an African American priest to move to Haiti and become the first African American bishop in the Episcopal Church.

I speak personally about Haiti today in light of President Trump’s unacceptable remarks about Haiti, but of course he did not confine his comments to Haiti alone, but slurred and insulted several other countries by name and many others by implication. Since I have been bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, I have been holding up the resonant goal of the Beloved Community, invoked by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote:

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. (1957)

The Beloved Community is the community of the whole, all of God’s people, all of life. The Beloved Community is our ideal and in the Beloved Community all find welcome in the arms of our Savior. In the shadow our President’s remarks have cast, I call on all people of faith and good will to shine the light of the Beloved Community.

Savior Christ, you pervade the whole world, your Father God contains the universe, the Holy Spirit holds all together with the power of love. Help us, we pray to live always in the light of this love and your presence, that the Beloved Community may be come to be for all of life. Give us the courage to stand against all that divides, degrades and dominates any and all of your children.

+Marc Andrus

Central New York bishop: Decision to end TPS for Salvadorans ‘does not represent our Christian values’

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:50pm

[Episcopal Diocese of Central New York] In Matthew 25, Jesus says:

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…

For followers of Jesus, his mandate to be in relationship with those who are “strangers” is clear.

Our government has determined that 200,000 Salvadoran residents of the United States will be deported and no longer protected under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. In the program’s seventeen years, the United States has become a beloved home for many of these Salvadorans and their families. Every measure of their participation in American life exhibits their integrity and commitment to the welfare of the American community.

This decision threatens our neighbors. The Episcopal Diocese of Central New York has a companion relationship with the Diocese of El Salvador; we support Cristosal in advancing human rights in El Salvador; we regularly travel to and host guests from El Salvador.

As the Bishop of Central New York, I stand in firm opposition to the deportation of people who are part of our American community, whose lives are closely linked with our own, and with whom we share so much. I encourage those of us who claim devotion to Jesus to re-read Matthew 25 carefully and prayerfully: “When you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me.” The decision to deport our neighbors who have been protected by TPS does not represent our Christian values. It is time to respond to this decision out of our moral and spiritual conviction. Please write or call your representatives and continue to pray and work for the dignity of all people, especially the Salvadorans who are so vulnerable in this time.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. DeDe Duncan-Probe
Bishop of Central New York

Displaced people…a 2,000 year-old story: message from the Diocese of Maryland bishops

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:47pm

[Episcopal Diocese of Maryland] We’re told more than 65 million people around the globe are on the move. They’ve left their homelands due mainly to war, famine, and natural disaster.

Just last week many Christians celebrated the feast of the Epiphany. It’s the biblical story of three wise men making a trek, following a star, to witness the newborn Savior. They’d been enlisted by a frightened King Herod to bring back information on where this child was.

But they didn’t.

Instead, they went home by a different road. Thus began the effort to kill all the young children in Bethlehem to get rid of a possible threat to the existing powers. We call it the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Jesus survived because his parents left their country for safety and protection in Egypt. They became refugees fleeing for their lives.

Refugees are still fleeing for their lives today. The U.S. government, in an act of mercy and compassion, has in recent years has granted temporary asylum to refugees from some countries. El Salvador has experienced war and earthquakes in the past nearly 40 years.  Many of their refugees were granted “temporary protective status” (TPS).

That’s now being threatened.  After many years of being here legally and building lives for their families, nearly 200,000 across the country face either deportation or a grueling bureaucratic task applying for a green card. In either case they face an uncertain future.  The U.S. government has been extending their legal status as residents here for 17 years; now it wants to get rid of them.  One of the largest populations of Salvadorans is in Maryland and Virginia.

In 2010 the bishops of the Diocese of Maryland penned a pastoral letter called “Welcoming the Stranger.” It’s a thorough examination of our religious conviction as informed by our Holy Scriptures and the life of Jesus that should direct followers in how to treat refugees.

That work has been consulted by many religious leaders as well as the bishops of The Episcopal Church. It also offers wisdom to legislators considering immigration reform.

Our core beliefs are that all people are created in God’s image, and the teachings of Holy Scripture should shape the way we welcome people who may come into our lives. We are all children of God. We are all seeking basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, safety and security.

In the Bible, God is described as the one “who loves strangers, providing them food and clothing…you shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Jesus, in keeping with the teachings of the prophets, spent a lot of time preaching and showing people how to treat people who are in need of help. He called blessed those who are poor in spirit, who are meek, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and says they shall see God. (Matthew 5:1-11)

Later on in the same gospel Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

He clearly had a special love for those who were displaced.

And when asked what was the most important commandment, Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

It’s in that tradition and strong admonition that we who follow Jesus are compelled to welcome the strangers among us. TPS refugees have been residing here legally, but we are reminded by the Bible that all refugees, no matter their status, deserve compassion and respect. No human being is “illegal.” There are only children of God with whom we are connected by God our Creator.

It seems ironic that the country with most TPS designees is named El Salvador, “The Savior.”

That country now has the highest per capita murder rate in the world for a country not at war. And yet our elected officials are considering returning these refugees—many of whom own homes and businesses, pay taxes, and have lived here most of their lives—to a country where they have nothing and will be at risk.

Such an action is not only un-Christian, it is immoral and downright mean. It goes against the clear teaching of Scripture.  It isn’t in the spirit of basic human decency. And it’s certainly not in the spirit of a nation of people who have come from every corner of the globe.

We urge everyone to advocate through the Episcopal Public Policy Network or Episcopal Migration Ministries to stop this threatened action. We pray that our displaced sisters and brothers will continue to live their productive lives under our protection, without fear, and with dignity and respect.

Faithfully yours,
The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop of Maryland

The Right Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen
Assistant bishop of Maryland

Virginia bishops pledge support to Salvadoran brothers and sisters

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 4:43pm

[Episcopal Diocese of Virginia] Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Holy Scripture commands us over and over again to do the work of God by welcoming strangers and loving them as God loves them.

This past week in our nation we have heard news that calls us to redouble our commitment to this work. On Monday, our President declared that some 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, who have been in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) since earthquakes devastated parts of El Salvador in 2001, will lose protected status by September of 2019. With that change in status, they would have to be deported to a country that is not their home and that does not have the infrastructure to receive them.

The Salvadoran men, women and children affected by this decision are not “other;” they are not all strangers to us. Instead, many hundreds are fellow Episcopalians, members of at least seven congregations in our Diocese. What happens to them affects us profoundly, because they are our brothers and sisters.

To our Salvadoran members and friends, we your Bishops say that we stand with you. We honor the commitments you have made to our civic and church communities as you have raised families, worked hard, paid taxes and contributed positively to our society. And we promise that we will take whatever political actions we can to reverse this decision for your sake, as well as for the sake of the Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants who have already lost protected status.

To the other Episcopalians in our Diocese, we your Bishops ask you to join with us in conveying messages of hope and support to our Salvadoran neighbors, brothers and sisters, and to work for a just immigration policy that allows families to stay together.

Attached to this letter are resources that give more information about TPS and about actions that we can take in response to this threat to our friends. Please read and share them as we strive to be obedient to God’s claim on our lives.

Faithfully yours,
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff

The Collect for Social Justice  (page 823 of The Book of Common Prayer) Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving spirit may so move every human heart, and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may lie injustice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Resources:  Top 5 ways to take action Interfaith Toolkit to Defend TPS Call and meet with your members of Congress

Fact Sheet: TPS Holders in Virginia

Immigration Advocacy Toolkit from The Episcopal Church 

More Resources

  On Twitter, use hashtag #SaveTPS

John F. McCard installed as rector of St. James’s in Richmond, Virginia

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 2:50pm

[St. James’s Episcopal Church] The Rev. John F. McCard will be installed by Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Diocese of Virginia as 14th rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church on Jan. 17 at a Celebration of Ministry service starting at 7 p.m.

McCard was selected by the Vestry of St. James’s to lead the church after an extensive national search that was completed in June 2017. The call for McCard was extended on June 24 and he joined the church staff formally on September 10.

Johnston will preside at the service, which will include a celebration of the Eucharist, and the Rev. Canon Jason Leo, Canon for Congregational Vitality in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, will deliver the sermon.

McCard was rector of St. Martin in the Fields in Atlanta, Georgia for 13 years. He also served as president and member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Atlanta for students from pre-K to 8th grade.

McCard is a native of Macon, Georgia. A graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, he earned his Master of Divinity Degree from General Theological Seminary in New York City in 1992. He completed a Master of Sacred Theology degree at Nashotah House in 2003 and a Doctor of Ministry Degree at Virginia Theological Seminary in 2007. McCard serves as a vestry retreat leader and consultant and is an authority on the writings and life of C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia.

St. James’s Episcopal Church is located at 1205 West Franklin Street near Virginia Commonwealth University. It was established in 1835 and has been at the intersection of West Franklin and Birch Streets since 1912.

For more information, visit the church’s website at www.doers.org.

11 de febrero: Domingo Mundial de las Misiones

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 6:30am

El domingo mundial de las misiones tradicionalmente se celebra el último domingo después de la epifanía, en el 2018 se celebrará, el domingo 11 de febrero. En el video a continuación, el obispo presidente y primado, Michael B. Curry invita a la Iglesia a observar el Domingo Mundial de las Misiones.

El Domingo Mundial de las Misiones nos invita a centrarnos en el impacto global del pacto bautismal y su llamado que exhorta a: “buscar y servir a Cristo en nuestros semejantes” (Libro de Oración Común, p. 305) y a concientizar sobre las muchas maneras en que la Iglesia Episcopal participa en la misión de Dios alrededor del mundo.

“El Domingo Mundial de las Misiones nos recuerda que Dios nos llama a todos a vivir una vida de reconciliación” expresó el Rdo. David Copley, director de Asociaciones Globales y personal de Misión en un sermón que puede que fue publicado aquí. “La reconciliación tanto con Dios como con nuestros semejantes, y la participación en ese proceso de reconciliación, nunca había sido tan apremiante como hoy.

En la actualidad los misioneros de la Iglesia Episcopal sirven en muchos lugares internacionales incluidos Aotearoa, Nueva Zelanda y Polinesia, Brasil, Costa Rica, República Dominicana, Inglaterra, El Salvador, Haití, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel/Palestina, Panamá, Las Filipinas, Catar, Romania, África del Sur y Tanzania.

Recursos
Existe un sinnúmero de recursos disponibles para la observación del Domingo Mundial de las Misiones en las congregaciones.

Información sobre los recursos para el Domingo Mundial de las Misiones está disponible aquí.

La lista de los actuales misioneros de la Iglesia Episcopal está disponible aquí.

Para más información, comuníquese con Jenny Grant, funcionaria interina  de Asociaciones Globales y de interconexión a jgrant@episcopalchurch.org.

Christian groups decry U.S. policy change on Salvadorans as Episcopalians offer support

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 3:37pm

Dozens of people attend an event this week organized by Crecen in Houston to provide information and show support for those affected by the Trump administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Salvadorans. Photo: Crecen, via Facebook

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church and ecumenical partner organizations are calling on Congress to act if the Trump administration refuses to reconsider its decision to end immigration protections for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans who have for years been allowed to establish roots and raise families in American communities.

At issue is the policy known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. The Trump administration has taken a hard line on the policy, saying it never was intended to offer immigrants permanent residency. The status typically is granted to foreign nationals from countries suffering from natural disasters or wars.

In November, the administration ordered an end to TPS for more than 50,000 Haitians by mid-2019. President Barack Obama had approved that TPS designation after a 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti.

Salvadorans have made up the largest group allowed to remain in the United States under TPS. The protection from deportation was granted to Salvadorans by President George W. Bush in 2001 after an earthquake struck El Salvador. Now, Salvadorans will have until September 2019 to obtain legal permanent residency in the United States or leave the country.

“If there’s any group of people you can imagine wide agreement that they not be deported, it’s this set of people,” said Sarah Lawton, a lay leader in the Episcopal Diocese of California who has made outreach to Salvadorans “an issue of the heart for me” since the 1980s.

The Salvadoran families who are being assisted by religious groups in San Francisco are contributing members of the local community, said Lawton, a member of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. The families typically include hard-working parents and children who are U.S. citizens because they were born here. For such families, the news on Jan. 8 was devastating.

“I woke up on Monday morning to a call from a friend who is terrified she’s going to be deported,” Lawton said.

Her friend is a Salvadoran with TPS whose husband is from Honduras and faces his own uncertainty because the Trump administration is ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that has allowed him to remain in the U.S. Their two children are both citizens.

The Episcopal Church regularly advocates for maintaining TPS, particularly when forcing some people to go back to their birth countries could break up families, pose threats to safety or both. General Convention approved a resolution in 2015 pledging to support Temporary Protected Status “for all immigrants fleeing for refuge from violence, environmental disaster, economic devastation, or cultural abuse or other forms of abuse.”

The church’s Office of Government Relations raised concerns about the change in policy toward Salvadorans.

“Multiple studies have demonstrated that El Salvador cannot safely repatriate nearly 200,000 individuals,” the Office of Government Relations said in a Jan. 8 statement. “El Salvador is ranked the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere and has suffered from continued natural disasters, stagnant economic growth, and a lack of infrastructure and health systems. Further, the majority of Salvadoran TPS holders are economic, cultural and social contributors to the U.S.

“Congress and the administration must devise a long-term solution for Salvadorans and others currently holding TPS that recognizes both the realities of the country’s harsh conditions and humanely addresses the realities of the individuals impacted.”

The Department of Homeland Security, in announcing the decision to end TPS for Salvadorans, said it is up to Congress to decide whether to grant long-term protections for those affected. It justified an end to temporary protections by citing the success of earthquake recovery efforts.

“Based on careful consideration of available information … the Secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist,” Homeland Security said in its Jan. 8 statement.

But President Donald Trump’s own State Department has acknowledged the dangers of life in El Salvador. In a travel warning issued February 2017, the State Department advised U.S. citizens “to carefully consider the risks of travel to El Salvador due to the high rates of crime and violence.” It noted the country’s homicide rate is among the highest in the world, and gang activity is “widespread.”

The Trump administration previously announced it was ending Temporary Protected Status for citizens of Sudan and Nicaragua, in addition to Haiti. For now, it remains in effect for citizens from Honduras, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, though the administration is due to review each designation in the next year or so to determine whether to extend or terminate those protections too. The decision on Syrians is due later this month.

Anglican bishops in Central America have scheduled a meeting this month to discuss the impact of migration and repatriation in the region, including as a result of changes in American policy. The bishops will, in part, respond to “the lack of preparation to face the social effects of the migration policies of the United States government,” the Anglican Church of Mexico said.

Christian groups and denominations have joined the Episcopal Church in objecting to the elimination of TPS. A representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement calling the Trump administration’s decision “heartbreaking.” Church World Service also put out a statement denouncing the decision.

Cristosal, an El Salvador-based human rights organization with roots in the Episcopal and Anglican churches, released a statement warning that the end of TPS will cause “unnecessary human suffering,” not just for the Salvadorans ordered to return to their native country but also for their estimated 190,000 U.S.-born children and “the many U.S. communities that depend on and benefit from migrants’ economic, cultural and social contributions.”

Elmer Romero, an Episcopalian in Houston who serves on the Cristosal board, attended a meeting on TPS held by the support group Crecen this week. The 60 to 80 Salvadorans who attended were asked how many planned to voluntarily move back to El Salvador: “No one raised their hands,” Romero told Episcopal News Service.

“There is not any type of economic development to create opportunities, especially for the youth population,” Romero said of El Salvador, and cartel- and drug-related violence is an ever-present danger.

He also disputed the Trump administration’s claim that the country, outside of its capital, has recovered from the earthquake. “If you go deep in the society, there’s still families who basically lost everything. They continue facing a lot of challenge.”

Romero, a Salvadoran-American who moved to the United States in 2000 before the earthquake, works as a program manager at Houston Center for Literacy and has been active for the past 17 years in helping immigrants and refugees find services in this country. His wife is an Episcopal priest.

He wasn’t surprised by the Trump administration decision this week, and he called it a success that Salvadorans were given 18 months before TPS expires. He is hopeful that advocates can persuade Congress to pass legislation providing permanent protection for the residents he serves. Until then, he said, they face an uncertain future, and some are considering arrangements that will allow their children to remain in the United States.

Similar arrangements are being discussed in the San Francisco area, according to Lawton, who works as a program coordinator at the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California-Berkeley.

Lawton said her church, the Diocese of California and other advocates for immigrant communities are helping to connect Salvadorans with legal representation to fight deportation and rallying for legislative solutions in the state capital and in Washington, D.C.

“We’re a sanctuary diocese. We’re a sanctuary parish. We’re doing everything we can to ensure due process for the people coming through the process,” Lawton said. “Together we lift up our voices.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Zambia’s churches urge ‘ongoing process’ to bring peace and justice to Zambia

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 2:23pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), which includes the Zambian dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, has joined with the country’s other two church mother-bodies, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), to issue a joint Statement on National Dialogue calling for an “ongoing process and effort” to bring peace and justice to Zambia.

Read the entire article here.

Church leaders cancel services in Lusaka in bid to halt cholera outbreak

Episcopal News Service - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 2:20pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Church leaders in Zambia have announced that services in parts of the capital should be cancelled to help halt the spread of cholera. The “epicentres cannot be allowed to hold church programs on [Jan. 14] and any other day until further notice,” the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), which includes the Zambian dioceses of the Church of the Province of Central Africa, said. “Church Services can be held in other areas outside these worst hit areas on Sunday as long the highest levels of hygiene are maintained. Every Church must have adequate and very clean toilets as well as enough clean water. Strictly urge all members to avoid handshakes, hugs, and communal foods.”

Read the entire article here.

Canadian Primate and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, announces plans to retire in July 2019

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:36pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Primate of Canada, has announced that he will step down from his role on the final day of Provincial Synod’s next meeting, on 16 July 2019. Last year, Archbishop Fred marked 40 years of ordained ministry in the church – 23 of them as a bishop and 10 as Primate. In a letter to the church, he said that he had wondered “if I might not be coming very close to the ‘best before’ date in the leadership I am providing”; but said that, after a process of prayer and discernment, he “felt more than a little sense of solemn obligation to see General Synod through the next round of conversations over a few very significant matters.”

Read the entire article here.

Two years after Cyclone Winston, Maniava’s rebuilt church is consecrated

Episcopal News Service - Wed, 01/10/2018 - 10:51am

[Anglican Communion News Service] Almost two years since Cyclone Winston swept through Fiji, killing 44 people, the village of Maniava is celebrating its rebirth. Maniava, in the province of Ra on Fiji’s main island of Vity Levu, sits on a hillside at the mouth of a valley. On the night of Feb. 20, 2016, winds of up to 186 mph destroyed the village. Yesterday, Archbishop Winston Halapua, the bishop of Polynesia, consecrated the newly rebuilt Church of the Resurrection and blessed 14 new homes and a school dormitory. He also ordained two new deacons to serve Maniava’s 168 residents.

Read the entire article here.

South Dakota mission church wants stolen bell back, offers forgiveness to thieves

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:45pm

[Episcopal News Service] A century-old bell was ripped from its tower at an Episcopal mission church in South Dakota sometime around the beginning of the year, and Rosebud Episcopal Mission has a message for the thieves: Bring the bell back, and all is forgiven.

“If the thief/thieves would like to return the bell, we would gladly accept it and offer forgiveness – because that’s what we do in the Church,” the Rev. Lauren Stanley said Jan. 9 in a Facebook post seeking help in solving the crime.

The bell was stolen from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, just north of Norris, South Dakota. It had been housed in a simple, wooden tower that was capped by a wooden cross. A member of the congregation discovered the tower toppled and the bell missing on Jan. 7 and notified Stanley. The cross also was damaged.

“Right now, the whole community is just in shock,” Stanley said when reached by phone. “We are absolutely shocked that somebody would steal a bell from one of our oldest churches, and we are absolute appalled that anybody would attack a church in this way.”

The church was founded in 1890, and the bell could be nearly as old. Decades ago it was used to summon worshipers to St. Paul’s for the monthly service and a community gathering, which would stretch over multiple days, Stanley said. Church leaders also rang it to notify local residents of major news.

Its use as a communication tool eventually was eclipsed by modern technology, but the bell still is a cherished piece of local history for the community of Blackpipe.

The church, served by the Rosebud Episcopal Mission, is on tribal land but outside the boundaries of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. During warmer months, services are scheduled every third Sunday, and attendance can range from a half dozen to as many as 85, if there is a baptism, Stanley said. St. Paul’s typically closes for the winter, when the congregation worships instead at a church in Norris.

The bell was last seen on Dec. 30, after a funeral at St. Paul’s. It was discovered missing by the congregation’s senior warden on her way home from visiting the nearby cemetery the morning on Jan. 7. She called Stanley that night, and on Jan. 8, Stanley drove over to inspect the damage.

Stanley thinks this was more than a case of vandalism. “This was not a quick job,” she told Episcopal News Service. The bell weighs at least 300 pounds – even more when adding its yoke, which also was stolen. The thieves appear to have cut the tower’s posts with a hand saw and then pulled it down with rope and a truck.

She suspects it was taken before Jan. 3 because snow fell that day, covering up the tire tracks left by the thieves’ truck. Stanley contacted both the county sheriff’s department and tribal police, who typically work together investigating crimes that happen on tribal land off the reservation.

The bell was stolen years ago, and members of the Sioux community back then were able to find it by sharing information with each other and convincing the thieves to bring it back. Stanley and investigators hope the same will happen this time.

“We believe that it’s the community that is going to get it back for us,” Stanley said. In the meantime, she is contacting scrap metal dealers from Rosebud to Rapid City asking them to let her know if someone tries selling the bell, though she doesn’t think it’s worth more than $10 melted down.

Stanley’s Facebook post had been shared 350 times as of midafternoon Jan. 9. Comments on the post have expressed shock, sadness and outrage.

“This theft has to be the saddest of all thefts!” said commenter Audrey Williamstead. “Why would anyone want to take the church bell which has been there forever?”

“I was baptized there,” said another commenter, Rhonda Eagle Bear. “Please return our bell.”

If the thieves bring the bell back, Stanley said she not only will offer forgiveness, “I’ll probably end up buying them dinner. Because what would you take a church bell for?”

Stanley added: “And then I’ll find some people to help me rebuild the bell tower, and the community will turn out for that.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

Diocese of Michigan Bishop Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr. announces retirement

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:54pm

[Diocese of Michigan] 

Dear Sisters and Brothers of The Diocese of Michigan:

In September of 1999, one of the questions asked of me during the “walk-about” was: “you’re young; you could be a bishop a long time! If you were elected, how long would you be our bishop?” My response was, “as long as I believe God is calling me to be here. I have always been committed to following where God calls me.”

On February 5th of this year, I will begin my 19th year as a bishop in God’s holy Church. I have served as your Bishop Diocesan since November 1, 2000. After much prayerful discernment, I have heard God’s call to move into retirement. Therefore, in consultation with The Standing Committee of the Diocese and in conversation with the Diocesan Staff, I am calling for the election of the 11th Bishop of Michigan. It is my intention to resign effective December 31, 2019; and, in conversation with the Office of the Presiding Bishop, the ordination and consecration of the next Bishop of Michigan is expected to occur in February 2020.

I know that some of you might feel that I am “too young” to retire. At the time that I step down as your bishop I will be three months shy of my 66th birthday and, I will have given nearly 33 years of service as an ordained leader in the Church. The time is right for me to spend more time with family and friends who have graciously shared me with the Church for many years and to enjoy other lifelong passions.

It has been a distinct honor to serve as your bishop. You have taught me so much about what it means to be Beloved Community. My own faith has strengthened as I have served with and learned in partnership with you. This is still very much a ministry I love with the depth of my being.

The Standing Committee recently met with the Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, from The Episcopal Church Office of Pastoral Development. In this role, Bishop Ousley is tasked with providing support and guidance to dioceses as they journey through times of episcopal transition. While it has been nearly 20 years since the diocese has experienced a transition in the bishop’s office, I am confident that with the able leadership of the Standing Committee you will journey well and faithfully.

Meanwhile, we have two years of ministry ahead of us. We have much to do as we continue to remain faithful to the call of God in our lives as individuals and as part of the Jesus Movement in southeast Michigan. During this time, I ask your prayers for the Standing Committee and all those who will have roles in keeping this time of transition focused. I ask your prayers for the Diocesan Staff who continue to work and minister on your behalf.  I also ask your prayers for Karlah and for me as we travel this time with you; I promise we will keep you in ours.

Faithfully,

+Wendell

The Rt. Rev’d Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr.

Archbishop urges churches to commemorate the ‘vile and shameful’ holocaust

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:38pm

[Anglican Communion News Service] The primate of the Church in Wales, Archbishop John Davies, is encouraging churches, parishes and chaplaincies to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Jan. 27. Internationally, Holocaust Memorial Day is held on the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Red Army. In the United Kingdom, the day not only commemorates the holocaust of the Jewish people at the time of World War II, but subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. It is a day on which the victims are remembered, as well as an opportunity for the living to learn lessons for the future.

Read the entire article here.

Se celebrará una Conferencia sobre Evangelismo en Cleveland

Episcopal News Service - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 9:33am

Invitamos a la Iglesia toda a asistir a la Conferencia sobre Evangelismo que se realizará entre el 15 y 17 de marzo de 2018. Esta conferencia es para toda persona que anhele compartir y profundizar una relación con Dios que sea amorosa, liberadora y vivificante.

Este evento se realizará en la Iglesia San Pablo en Cleveland Heights, Ohio, y está patrocinado por el Equipo de Iniciativas para el Evangelismo y Forward Movement.

La Rvda. Stephanie Spellers, canóniga para evangelismo, reconciliación, y cuidado de la creación, participó de un evento similar que se realizó con muchísimo éxito en Dallas en noviembre de 2016. La Rvda. Spellers declaró: “El evento de Dallas demostró que nuestra gente anhela profundamente compartir, estudiar y aumentar nuestra capacidad de evangelizar. Esta vez esperamos recibir a todavía más personas, y nos enfocaremos en cómo compartir e incrementar el amor de Dios en diversos contextos: rural, urbano y suburbano; iglesias grandes, pequeñas, y nuevas; comunidades seculares y sitios de saturados de iglesias. Este ministerio nos atañe a todas y a todos”.

El Rvdo. Scott Gunn es el director ejecutivo de Forward Movement. “Estamos tan entusiasmados por la oportunidad de asociarnos con la oficina del Obispo Presidente y compartir este emocionante evento con toda la iglesia”, declaró el Rvdo. Gunn. “Esta conferencia sobre evangelismo se centrará en Jesús y su movimiento, es decir, en compartir la Buena Noticia por palabra y obra con todo el mundo”.

El Obispo Presidente Michael Curry será uno de los oradores. Las sesiones plenarias y los talleres serán dirigidos por un grupo diverso de líderes de evangelismo.  Las varias diócesis enviarán además representantes a una conferencia para “catalizadores del evangelismo”. Muchas de las sesiones se trasmitirán por internet y estarán disponibles para descargar en línea; alentamos la participación individual y de grupos satélites.

La inscripción está abierta y disponible en este enlace. El formulario de inscripción está disponible en español. Los participantes internacionales pueden inscribirse a un costo de solamente 50 dólares.

El sitio web contiene información actualizada sobre el programa, los presentadores, patrocinio del evento, recomendaciones de hospedaje, etc.

Para recibir más información, favor de contactar a Sarah Alphin, salphin@episcopalchurch.org  o 212-716-6102.

World Council of Churches begins its platinum anniversary with celebration in China

Episcopal News Service - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:51am

[Anglican Communion News Service] The World Council of Churches has begun a year of celebrations to mark its 70th anniversary with a celebration in China. The general secretary of the council, the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, preached in one of the oldest Protestant churches in China Sunday – Chongwenmen Church in Beijing – on the theme “Jesus Christ, the Joy of the World.”  And he took with him a message of greeting from what the council describes as “the living fellowship with 348 member churches worldwide.”

Read the entire article here.

 

Presiding Bishop in Puerto Rico exchanges messages of hope as struggles persist after hurricane

Episcopal News Service - Fri, 01/05/2018 - 3:37pm

Puerto Rico Bishop Rafael Morales, left, gives a toy to a child during a pop-up medical clinic that doubled as a hurricane relief station Jan. 3 in Toa Baja. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, right, who was on a two-day pastoral visit, helped distribute the toys alongside three costumed Wise Men. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service – Toa Baja, Puerto Rico] Bishop Rafael Morales leaves no impression he is still wading into his job. He had led the Diocese of Puerto Rico a mere two months when Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September, and since then he, his staff and clergy around the diocese have mobilized relief efforts with a determination that this week earned praise from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry during his two-day visit.

Hurricane Maria was and continues to be an unparalleled catastrophe, Morales said, but he is seizing the opportunity for ministry to his fellow Puerto Ricans.

“Our people have a good heart,” he said Jan. 3, on the road to the coastal town of Toa Baja accompanied by Curry. Puerto Rico’s culture is one of thanksgiving, Morales said. “This diocese is a diocese of hope.”

Curry was in Puerto Rico on a pastoral visit, and he preached Jan. 3 in the evening at the Episcopal cathedral in San Juan, the capital of the U.S. territory. The earlier stop in Toa Baja introduced Curry and his delegation to Hugs of Love, a series of pop-up medical clinics the diocese has offered since the hurricane through the health care system it runs. This and other ministries are strengthened by ecumenical partnerships and through collaboration with federal agencies, local nonprofits and the Episcopal Church’s Episcopal Relief & Development.

For the Hugs of Love event in Toa Baja, open-air canvas tents were set up on a vacant gravel lot provided by the local Disciples of Christ congregation, which also sent volunteers. They wore hats and shirts with the message “Ama Como Crist” – “Love Like Christ.”

“Thank you for what you’ve both done. It’s God’s work,” Curry said to the Disciples of Christ pastor, the Rev. Prudencio Rivera Andujar, and his wife, Azalia Gomez.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry greets people Jan. 3 at the pop-up medical clinic in Toa Baja. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Curry walked through the tents shaking hands and doling out hugs to the diocesan volunteers and some of the hundreds of residents who had come for the daylong clinic. They waited their turns to receive blood pressure checks, blood tests, vaccinations, prescription refills and other medical services, all provided free by doctors and nurses from Episcopal Hospital San Lucas, based in Ponce.

Everyone from the San Lucas system gets involved in the pop-up clinics, Jesus Cruz Correa, the hospital’s medical director, told Curry. “We rotate the doctors.” Patients who need further medical attention are referred to the hospital for follow-up visits.

A box truck from the hospital, parked near one of the tents, was filled with food, water and personal hygiene items for distribution to the families. Lunch and music were included in the event, along with activities for the children.

Morales, who spent seven years as a priest in Toa Baja, was an eager host, leaning in for a laugh often and deploying his infectious smile nearly always. He is an Episcopalian who talks constantly about his blessings, his diocese’s blessings, his people’s blessings, even in a time of such deprivation. The church is motivated to engage with the community, he said.

“It’s a blessing, it’s a ministry,” he had told Curry earlier in the day after greeting him at the hotel in San Juan. “We have hard moments now, but Jesus is blessing us.”

Residents still struggle months after hurricane

The scene around Toa Baja, about 20 minutes west of San Juan, only hints at the scale of the disaster still gripping much of the island more than 100 days after the hurricane struck as a powerful category 4 hurricane. It made landfall Sept. 20 with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, knocking out power and telephone service for the island’s 3.4 million residents. It caused mudslides, destroyed homes and businesses, downed trees and created extreme shortages of food and drinking water.

The official death toll from the storm stands at 64, but a New York Times analysis last month suggests the disaster’s real toll is exponentially higher, possibly topping 1,000 deaths.

The damage to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure has been particularly devastating. The governor’s office announced last week that power had been restored to only 55 percent of customers across the island, and getting the lights back on in remote areas might not happen until May.

In Trujillo Alto, a downed utility pole rests at the side of a road that leads to the Episcopal diocesan offices, in a neighborhood among those still without power. Some stoplights on the town’s thoroughfares have only recently begun working again, but as of this week Morales’ team was based in a building still powering itself by generator.

Some inland mountain communities have been hit even harder. “Roads are completely destroyed,” the Rev. Edwin Orlando Velez said through a Spanish translator while visiting the Hugs for Love clinic in Toa Baja.

Orlando Velez serves two congregations in the west-central part of the island, in the towns of Lares and Maricao. Many people are still are without power or water, he said. Because of mudslides and downed trees, driving is difficult.

The churches are working with the local municipalities to help with cleanup, but Orlando Velez and other priests also have been ministering to hurricane victims through home visits. They often find simply to hold someone’s hand and listen to stories makes a difference.

“I would say that they are in pretty good spirits,” he said. “The people in the mountains are used to hardships. Because of that they have had an accepting attitude.”

Some of the diocese’s priests lost their homes. Others didn’t have power in their churches until receiving generators, with help from Episcopal Relief & Development and other church partners, such as the Diocese of Maryland.

In the first days after the storm, with phone lines down and cell service unreliable, Episcopal Relief & Development arranged to get satellite phones to the diocese so Morales’ team could coordinate pastoral and medical relief efforts with far-flung clergy. Episcopal Relief & Development also has paid for food and water, and because of its experience responding to previous hurricanes, it is helping the diocese coordinate with federal agencies and other relief organizations.

Episcopal Relief & Development President Rob Radtke, who accompanied Curry on his two-day visit, called Puerto Rico a “high-capacity diocese.” The diocese has successfully leveraged its health care system as part of relief efforts, he said, and it benefits from well-organized and ambitious leadership with a heartening interest in serving its community.

“This is where the church really has a particular gift. This is true both in Puerto Rico and elsewhere,” Radtke told Episcopal News Service. “It has access to the most intimate parts of people’s lives, and it has a high level of trust that it can call on, in terms of people reaching out to the church and seeing the church as a place that will meet their needs.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joins a group led by the Diocese of Puerto Rico that conducted home visits Jan. 3 to provide medical care to sick residents of Toa Baja. Here, Mariana Cabrera, 83, who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and ulcers, is checked by medical personnel. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Morales expressed disappointment in the federal response so far. He doesn’t think the Federal Emergency Management Administration, or FEMA, has shown the same commitment to Puerto Rico as it has to communities in the continental United States that were ravaged by hurricanes in 2017, such as Houston. In areas where the government is seen as falling short, his diocese hopes to step up.

“The blessing is that now we are a missionary diocese,” Morales told Curry over lunch of chicken, rice and beans, as three costumed Wise Men took the lead in handing out bags of food and water to families visiting the Toa Baja clinic.

After lunch, Morales and Curry joined the Three Wise Men to distribute toys to a long line of smiling children and their parents – “the Epiphany in advance,” Morales said.

In face of despair, seeking signs of hope

Curry had another biblical reference in mind. “You have turned the water of the hurricane into the wine of hope,” he told the church leaders in Toa Baja, providing a preview of his sermon hours later.

That evening, at Holy Eucharist at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Curry spoke of the Epiphany gospel reading resonating for the local church’s mission – how the Three Wise Men of the Gospel of Matthew stumbled upon a miracle, and how Episcopalians in Puerto Rico may find miracles in themselves. Then he invoked the story of the Wedding at Cana, in which Jesus took jars of water and turned them into wine for all of those gathered.

“I’ve heard about neighbors taking care of neighbors,” he said, highlighting examples in Puerto Rico, from the priests who have reached out to people with damaged homes to the doctors and nurses he met at the “hospital in the field” in Toa Baja.

“You’ve been turning the water of Maria into the wine of hope,” he told the congregation.

He concluded with words of encouragement, for Episcopalians in Puerto Rico to keep following the way of Jesus as they minister to their neighbors.

“When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high,” he said. “If you follow Jesus, you’ll never walk alone.”

Such encouragement is welcome. Despair is a constant threat for families struggling after the hurricane, said Damaris DeJesus, who serves as secretary of the diocese’s board of directors and who chauffeured Curry and the other visitors to some of their stops this week.

“For example, that house,” she said, pointing to a damaged apartment building on the side of a road in Toa Baja. “That family, what are they going to do?” At the same time, she credited Morales with emphasizing hope in calling the diocese to serve those in need.

Damaris DeJesus discusses Puerto Ricans’ mix of despair and hope during the drive from Toa Baja back to San Juan on on Jan. 3 with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, right, and an Episcopal Church delegation. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

DeJesus is a psychologist who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, and after the hurricane she worked with interns to set up group counseling sessions with families dealing with the psychological trauma of losing so much. She was struck by the perspective of a 6-year-old boy, who was living in a tent with his parents because his family’s home was damaged in the storm.

“At the moment I met him, I saw how happy he was,” she said told Curry and his staff through an interpreter. The boy had pointed out all that his family still had, including each other. “He was thankful to God that he was with his parents.”

On Jan. 4, Morales arranged for Curry to hear testimonials from people who survived the hurricane. After giving Curry and his staff a tour of the diocesan offices in Trujillo Alto, he invited them outside to a banquet lunch under a tent, where the generator’s rumble mixed with the sound of live music.

Before the lunch was served, four Episcopalians stood to speak to the crowd of several dozen people about their experiences during and after Hurricane Maria. Kelma L. Nieves Serrano of Fajardo described how she and her wife lost everything – their house flooded, their car destroyed.

“We also had God as our companion,” she said through a translator. And they felt fortunate to have members of the Episcopal community checking in on them and offering food, water and transportation when needed. “We are struggling, but we are standing.”

Kelma L. Nieves Serrano of Fajardo describes her experiences in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria at an event Jan. 4 hosted by Bishop Rafael Morales outside the diocesan offices in Trujillo Alto. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

Elfidia Pizarro Parrilla of Loiza said she and her neighbors were similarly thankful for the support of the Episcopal Church. The hurricane “turned our home upside-down. I have lost everything that I had,” Pizarro Parrilla said. “The church said, ‘we are here, present with you.’”

Morales gave his own testimonial, beginning by acknowledging his own despair after the hurricane struck. He came to the diocese’s offices, saw the surrounding destruction and wondered what he could do. He was inspired by the sight of a cross, which was still standing outside behind the main building.

“When I saw the cross, I understood that the Lord was indeed in the middle of the storm and he was here after the storm,” Morales told the crowd gathered under the tent.

The tent had been raised on a large concrete slab in front of the main building, and it served as a symbol of resurrection as Morales spoke of how God has guided the diocese forward. The hurricane destroyed a provisional church building on the concrete slab, which now supported a gathering filled with fellowship and resolve.

“What a hurricane takes away can be rebuilt into something good,” he said.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org. Dinorah Padro contributed translation for this report.

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