Last week I was in Cairo, Egypt for the Global South Conference—but I hasten to add my heart and mind was in prayer for those in the path of Hurricane Matthew—especially those of us in South Carolina and the diocese. What little internet connection I could find and whatever spare time I had was spent in following the Hurricane forecasts and in spotty contact with those who were here. I admit there were more than a few anxious moments for me last week as well as a cancelled flight previously scheduled for Charleston on the Saturday Hurricane Matthew chose to arrive.
Now on this Thursday after the storm it is a lovely fall day here; 76 degrees with a light breeze; one could hardly ask for more pleasant weather—yet I know that in other parts of the diocese parishioners are anxiously watching the reports on cresting rivers; waiting for power to be restored to their homes; for insurance adjusters to get back to them; for roads to be cleared from falling trees; for swollen river-closed bridges to be opened so they can return to their homes and discover what Hurricane Matthew and the accompanying waters have dealt them. Allison and I had only a house to put back together and we suffered not even the loss of frozen foods. Others elsewhere were not so fortune—and then there is the unspeakable pain of those in Haiti and southeastern North Carolina. It calls to mind the poignant words of W. H. Auden:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along; (Musee’ De Beaux Arts)
The poet’s thrust, among other points, is the irony of how one person’s suffering often occurs while another is having a quite pleasant or just normal day.
I have noticed, however, among those of us whose lives appear already back to normal that there is a “weariness “or perhaps a lingering emotional strain from the events of the last week—an accumulating toll I suppose. We cancelled several diocesan meetings in order to allow people to attend to their personal cares or the needs of their neighbors. I’ve noticed many of our congregations have done the same—some of necessity and some from a sensitive wisdom regarding capacity. There are seasons not to be driven to do but to be, to pray, to intercede—and along with a helping hand—to give thanks. Put simply, from all the reports we’ve received from our congregations, we in the diocese have sustained very minimal damage to our church and parish properties, and with the exception of fallen trees and a drastically changed beach and Privateer Point we were relatively unscathed at St. Christopher which, given it’s barrier island location, is quite remarkable. Indeed from Grand Strand to Hilton Head, from Cheraw and Marion to Blackville and Walterboro the report is that we are fortunate beyond anything we could have expected.
There are also many examples of parishioners and congregations reaching out to those in need around the diocese—St. Bart’s, Hartsville, hosting a spaghetti dinner for those without electricity and for students at Coker College; Trinity, Myrtle Beach, opening their doors for folk to recharge cell phones; the congregations on Edisto Island assisting those on the island with food and safe water; St. James,’ Blackville, helping parishioners when a tree fell on their home; St. Helena’s, Beaufort, collecting food to help 50 families in their local community —and far too many other examples to list. Along with such actions may I urge our parishes and missions to have a sustained time of thanksgiving for God’s protection and provision this Sunday perhaps using one of the General Thanksgivings (BCP p. 836) or an adaptation thereof as well as intercessions for those still in need.
Please also consider a special collection to assist Water Mission’s efforts to get safe water to those in Haiti, along with identifying appropriate ways to assist the needy in your local community—members and non-members alike. We have been fortunate, indeed. May this leave in us a profound gratitude; a gratitude which brings invariably a fresh lilt even for those who walk with a strained or weary step.
The Right Reverend Mark Lawrence