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Healing as a way forward

October 10 was the one year mark of Hurricane Michael’s landfall. A storm that changed the landscape and lives of anyone living along the Panhandle of Florida.

On that evening, two local churches, Holy Nativity in Panama City, and St. James in Port St. Joe, held services of healing and thanksgiving.

In his sermon, Holy Nativity’s rector, the Rev. Steve Bates said “We find ourselves in a place where theology meets reality. This storm will forever be a part of our DNA but more importantly, the ways we chose to fill that hole in our hearts in the next 525600 minutes and beyond, 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.”

That hole Steve speaks of comes from experiencing the trauma of disaster, an emotional cycle that goes something like this: First comes the shock of what has happened. Emergency responders find people, ensure safety, and assess the greatest critical needs. Next, there is community cohesion - neighbors help neighbors, cavalries of disaster response teams arrive with supplies like water, ice, generators and fuel, smiles and helping hands. The sense of “we are all in this together” is strong and people begin to feel as if they can make it through the tough days ahead. However, the feeling is fleeting as disillusionment sets in. The cavalries depart for home. The news channels move on to the next big story. Getting national governmental support is a slow, impossible process. Debris is still everywhere. People’s needs are increasingly unmet. The feeling of resilience begins to fade to feelings of being forgotten. People are still strong but they are so tired. They continue to work through the grief of losing what is their normal way of life. As holidays and anniversaries roll around, sadness and depression come with it. People begin to wonder when this will all be over.

Then, there is that glimmer of hope and the will to thrive. Underneath all of the hardship, pain, and struggle is one common light - that church is the one place where whatever emotion someone is feeling – anger, sadness, joy, despair, gladness, hope - can be invited in, expressed, and honored, in order to give its owner a chance to begin the healing process, and move to the reconstruction phase - a new beginning.

At Holy Nativity, hundreds of parishioners, clergy, students from Holy Nativity Episcopal School, and local leaders gathered for a service of healing and thanksgiving for all they had been through. A youth choir sang a touching rendition of “525600 Minutes” from the musical “Rent.” The evening was culminated by a community supper and allowed time for story sharing. [Pictures and video are available on Facebook]

Across the county at St. James, parishioners and clergy joined for a style of service where people were able to share their personal stories of recovery, and offered a time for reflection, listening, and blessing. Fr. Tommy said, “Our service focused on God and all that he has done to restore us since Hurricane Michael. I believe it provided people with hope for the future.”

The love and support we share in our faith communities, the same love and support we receive from God, helps us heal and weather all storms.

We asked for your continued prayers and support for our local communities affected by Hurricane Michael, as well as all communities who have gone through their own disaster.


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