The concrete block building of Pass Christian First United Methodist Church stands strong just a block away from the Mississippi coastline. Almost five months after Hurricane Katrina poured feet of storm surge into the sanctuary, fellowship hall and classrooms, the church was buzzing with activity. With the leadership of clergywoman Terry Hilliard, who now also serves as an UMCOR regional director for two Mississippi counties, the church reconstructed their education wing as a bunk house for volunteer teams and opened its building as a center for volunteers to come in and rebuild the storm-ravaged community. It was here that ten North Alabama clergywomen and friends came together in late January to work toward offering this congregation a measure of encouragement and hope.
Pass Christian FUMC's first building, dedicated in 1907, was washed away by Hurricane Camille over 30 years ago. Only a few pews were salvaged and brought to their current building, completed in 1972. While Katrina's storm waters damaged most of the church's furnishings, the original pews appeared untouched. The North Alabama Women in Ministry team's first assignment was stripping the antique pews so that they could be refinished. While the task was more difficult and time consuming than first imagined, it was satisfying work to restore a physical reminder of the spirit in which the congregation was established. The second job for the team was to stain and finish the new kitchen cabinets, already in use by the many work teams coming through.
Meanwhile, in the education wing, clergywoman-artist Susie Knedlik painted a mural of the original white clapboard church building. A tree, alive but leaning out to the side of the building, was a visual symbol that this congregation had been battered repeatedly by storms through the years, but still remains alive with God's abiding presence.
The North Alabama Women in Ministry team was just one group among many serving in Pass Christian. Volunteers fed hundreds of people every day from Katrina's Kitchen. As the North Alabama women worked at the church, a United Methodist team from Kentucky gutted out a 140 year old house nearby. Other teams were spotted down the street making homes livable again. Volunteers like these were pouring in all across the region to help restore homes and communities, offering help and hope.
The Women in Ministry's trip concluded with the celebration of Holy Communion with new friends and fellow workers from the week. The sanctuary had been cleaned and reassembled on the bare concrete floor. Prayers were lifted up for the congregation, community, volunteers and the world. As the traditional liturgy was spoken and sung, the Word of God read and heard, the elements blessed and shared, it was clear that even in the middle of the piles of debris, the Body of Christ was alive and well in Pass Christian, Mississippi.