May 15, 2019 
The Episcopal Church in the Central Gulf Coast
Special update regarding Hurricane Michael impacted areas
Last Tuesday, staff from the Duvall Center met with clergy in the Panama City area Convocation for an update on recovery efforts after Hurricane Michael. We shared an update regarding our recent grant of $250,000 from Episcopal Relief and Development and how they can obtain funding from the grant (see article below). We talked about insurance issues and heard about construction progress at affected churches.

More to the point of offering updates, we went to listen. One of the most fervent and frequent comments from the clergy around the table is the ongoing frustration regarding federal relief funding that is deadlocked in Washington DC. “We live on what we call the forgotten coast, but some days I feel like we have been forgotten” was voiced by one of our clergy.

After the meeting, I contacted the Office of Government Relations . What follows is an update on legislation from their office. It also includes an “action alert for Episcopalians.” This is a concrete way that each of us can be an advocate for our friends living in the wake of Hurricane Michael [as well as many other disasters] This is a way we can do our part to turn up the volume of love and justice. Please join in by clicking the alert here:

As part of a grassroots effort to raise recovery awareness and advocacy in the Panhandle, a group of Episcopal women created Michael's Angels. They have formed teams for Housing & Development, Education, Communication, Government Relations, and Health Care, and teach folks in the community how to communicate with elected officials about the funding and tax legislation needed to successfully recover from Hurricane Michael. Their call to action? Save the Florida Panhandle. Learn more about their efforts here.
Per another clergy who asked for our diocesan churches to continue to pray, I direct all of our congregations to add, into your Prayers of the People, a petition for those still recovering from Hurricane Michael.  +Russell
Update from EPPN on Disaster Funding legislation as of May 14, 2019
On May 10, the House passed a disaster funding bill ( H.R. 2157) with bipartisan support. Thirty-four Republicans, primarily representing communities impacted by disasters and waiting on assistance, set aside politics and supported the measure to get much delayed assistance moving.

Among bipartisan supporters are the full Nebraska delegation, which suffered devastating flooding; representatives of coastal Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida; communities along the Mississippi, and Texans and Alabamians near disaster areas. The bill now moves to the Senate where success is threatened as the White House encourages the Senate to add immigration and border security funding to this disaster relief package. Mixing emergency and disaster relief with the Administration’s border policy threatens the ability of our government to respond to the immediate needs of people who are suffering. Our nation is long overdue for a serious and thorough reform of our immigration system and policies, but this should not be done while disaster relief is needed.

Urge your Senators to pass a clean disaster and humanitarian assistance bill!
Update on diocesan hurricane relief funds for impacted churches
Spring has sprung and nine of our Episcopal churches impacted by Hurricane Michael are actively working with their communities to continue the recovery process. The Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast was able to provide some assistance to their efforts by way of two separate money sources that became available from the generosity of Episcopal Relief and Development, and various individuals and organizations in and out of the diocese.

Bishop Russell released hurricane relief funds donated by individuals and organizations since Hurricane Michael made landfall in Northwest Florida last October. He was advised by a small working group that surveyed the needs of each affected church and recommended an equitable amount of funds to be released to each church. These funds were intended to assist the churches with covering the cost of their insurance deductibles and other rebuilding costs so that the burden for each church to get back to normal operations in their buildings could be reduced as much as possible.  

A second source of relief funds were made available when Episcopal Relief and Development approved a relief grant applied for by the Diocese. This grant of $250,000 will be used for a number of purposes that all relate to increasing the storm affected churches’ ministries in their local area. Episcopal Relief and Development recommended that the Diocese apply for an overall grant rather than requiring each church to submit their own, individual grant request. This will allow the Diocese to work with each church to determine the most effective ministries available or already in effect, and then allocate grant funds to build or strengthen those important ministries. The primary intent of these Episcopal Relief and Development funds is to allow storm affected churches to recover while they and their parishioners actively work with and in their local communities.

Chris Heaney
Diocesan Hurricane Relief Coordinator
Life is hard, progress can be slow, but each day there is a celebration
During the recent clericus, as Bishop Russell mentioned above, the opening scripture for the meeting was Isaiah 40:28-31: Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Everyone was ask where they were in regards to the scripture reference: tired and weary, stumbling and falling, soaring, or walking but not faint? Their responses ran the gamut of options. But the resounding consensus was: we are so tired, things are moving slowly in recovery efforts, but we are resurrecting. Each day brings a new challenge but also a reason for celebration - like when the Holy Nativity School trailers arrived so classes could resume, members of Grace were able to worship in their sanctuary again, St. Andrew's Room 6 reopening as a safe place for marginalized youth, and work finally beginning on the roof at St. Luke's. Then, of course, there are small things such as the reopening of Krispy Kreme or a favorite coffee shop.

Here are a couple of quotes to share from the clericus gathering:

  • "That is not to say that signs of resurrection aren’t around us, and that there hasn’t been little resurrections everyday. Unfortunately and frustratingly, long-term communal recovery and resurrection will take time, which can make the Holy Saturday moment feel like it’s dragging on and on, because honestly it is, and that’s okay. It is okay to live in the Holy Saturday moments, we have to, and that doesn’t mean we stop looking for signs of resurrection, it just means we maybe we don’t have to be afraid to live in Holy Saturday either."

  • "We are blessed it is not any worse that it is. It has been a challenge for everyone, but we are a strong parish and community."

  • "I wish this storm had never happened, but, my God, I love the face of Christ I see in you. We find ourselves in a place where theology meets reality. This storm will forever be a part of our DNA but more importantly, the way we navigate this coming year with help from folks like you can forever be a beacon of the power of love where God is found not through what we have to say but through people caring, loving and helping each other through the storm; both literally and figuratively. Where loving your neighbor is more than just a slogan and where grace becomes more than just a theological concept. And the goodness of things done for us and the goodness of things we’re doing for others can become the reality of what is to be."

  • "I forget how things used to be sometimes in running the parish. There are lots of emotional times, and it is hard to pull yourself, as pastor, into the pastor role. At the same time, there is a deeper sense of spirituality."

There is a story to tell for each church community, which deserves to be honored in our broader publication, Faith Matters. For those of you who were impacted by Hurricane Michael in some way, we are asking for you to share your part of the story. Submissions can be sent to or use this link. Share your photos, artwork, poems, stories, songs, video snippets, favorite sermon text, etc.

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