By Woody Woodrick
BILOXI — In the Bible, a lament is a psalm that names something loved and lost.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward told a gathering of about 100 people here Aug. 26 that all lament what was lost a year ago in Hurricane Katrina, but faith in God is stronger than the storm that devastated Mississippi and Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005.
“Northing is too great for God to overcome. We give thanks that Katrina is not as strong as God’s abiding love,” Ward said. “Katrina can’t hold a candle to God’s abiding providence. Wherever we are wiser and more joyful and more persevering and more patient and more confident, we are so because of God’s lifting and resurrecting power.”
The service of remembrance, sponsored by the Seashore District of the Mississippi Conference, was held on the grounds of Seashore Assembly just across U.S. 90 from a tranquil Gulf of Mexico. The assembly and the adjoining Leggett Memorial United Methodist Church sustained extensive damage in the storm.
In addition to Ward, speakers included Steve Phillips of Ocean Springs, the Rev. Rachel Benefield-Pfaff of Gulfport and 6-year-old Mary Hilliard of Gulfport.
Phillips, a reporter for WLOX television station in Biloxi and member of St. Paul UMC, told about his experiences covering the aftermath of the storm. Benefield-Pfaff shared a poem written by two friends that expressed their relief at being spared but heartache for those who died.
With help from her father, the Rev. Larry Hilliard of Nugent UMC in Gulfport, Mary Hilliard recounted how she and her family went to her grandparents’ house because it had never flooded in a storm. Eventually, the family had to abandon that home as the water rose higher and higher. Larry Hilliard reminded Mary of how scared they all were.
“What did you tell me?” Larry Hilliard asked.
“Don’t worry, Daddy. Jesus won’t let anything happen to us,” Mary Hilliard said.
Ward shared the story of three people who rode out the storm in a church in Pearlington, a small town hard-hit by the storm. As the waters rose in the church, they climbed onto the altar, which eventually worked loose from its base. As they prayed, the altar rose with the flood waters, stopping just short of the ceiling. The people scrambled into the rafters, and then as the waters began to recede, got back on the altar, and it settled back in its place.
“God has lifted us toward God’s own self in a way in which we have never been lifted before,” Ward said, as she stood by an altar made of two sawhorses topped with a sheet of plywood. “I give thanks as we lament the grief of this time that we have not lifted ourselves too high, that we have allowed God to lift us higher and higher and higher.”
After Holy Communion, those attending were given an opportunity to write the names of friends and family who had died in the storm, and then attach the names to a banner of multi-colored ribbons.