Despite hardships, Katrina's victims express Thanksgiving


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor


After stuffing down a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, dressing and all the trimmings, many Americans fall asleep.


That might be just what Mississippians along the Gulf Coast need most as they hold the first Thanksgiving after Hurricane Katrina, said the Rev. Jim Genesse.


“Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is go home and take a nap,” said Genesse, senior pastor at Long Beach First United Methodist Church. “That might be where we are. There is a deep sense of gratitude to God for everything. Maybe that is where it needs to be right now.”


Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. Nearly 230 Mississippians lost their lives in the storm. Deaths in other states boosted the toll to more than 2,000. Tens of thousands lost their homes and most other possessions. Unquestionably, Thanksgiving 2005 will be different.


Some holiday traditions, such as big family gatherings, football watching or other activities, won’t be possible.


“We have some members who will take advantage of the opportunity to work at home or leave town to get away from it for a while,” said the Rev. Bruce Taylor, pastor at Pascagoula First UMC.


Genesse said Long Beach won’t likely hold its traditional community Thanksgiving service. The area around Long Beach, Pass Christian and Waveland on the western side of the coast was hit hardest by the storm.


“We normally have a community Thanksgiving service. That’s probably not going to happen,” Genesse said. “Everybody has so many other things going on, that may just be a casualty of scheduling this year. The Baptist church was supposed to host it, but the church is gone. We’re not quite ready to get back to a totally normal routine.”


However, the Rev. RoseMary Williams of DeLisle Mount Zion UMC said her church will hold a community service with the other churches that are using the Mount Zion building. St. Paul UMC and two Baptist churches are currently holding services at Mount Zion. “We’re going to come together and have a Thanksgiving,” she said.


Williams thinks many community services will be held. “I think there will be more communities doing things because residents and families can’t come together,” she said. “If it’s warm, families will come together outside, but if it’s cool, they won’t come together. People will get together in unique ways.”


All three pastors said their members appear to be taking a more spiritual approach to Thanksgiving. Their members, the pastors said, are thankful.


“We’ll be less about stuff than the blessings that have come our way in people, resources and funds,” Taylor said. “The spirit of the church is really good right now.”

“We began talking about things to be thankful for, and one of those was the journey of the Israelites and our journey since Katrina,” Williams said. “There were some (who wondered if they had reason to be thankful), but I think those folks have had a transformation of their attitudes. They realize even though the situation is rough, we still have so much to be thankful for.”


Genesse agreed. “We have a number of people who have lost everything. They got out of their houses with the clothes on their backs and are enormously thankful,” he said. “The kinds of things we normally deal with at Thanksgiving tend to be sort of superficial.”

For what will people on the coast thank God?


“People are very thankful for a gazillion things; for where they are, the state of their families, the assistance everybody has provided,” Genesse said. “They are thankful for the support of the body of Christ and each other.”


“I think that there is a spirit of gratitude in our congregation, especially for the work teams that have come,” Taylor said. “Those directly touched know what those work teams mean. We’re very thankful for supplies and resources and emergency relief that came in quickly. We’re very aware of the nature of those gifts from churches or individuals.”