Alabama Congregation Helps Sister Church in the Virgin Islands

The Rev. Robin Hinkle (center) participates in a Sunday worship service in the parish hall of St. Mary’s the Virgin Episcopal Church on May 26.

Members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Jasper recently returned from a mission trip to a sister church in the British Virgin Islands that is still struggling to recover from a double dose of hurricane destruction.

St. Mary’s the Virgin Episcopal Church on the island of Virgin Gorda was in the crosshairs of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, both Category 5 hurricanes, in September 2017.

“The 180 mph winds (of Irma) began before dawn on and lasted until well after midnight that evening. The hurricane basically sat on top of Virgin Gorda and its neighboring islands…what Irma had not destroyed, Maria finished the job,” said the Rev. Robin Hinkle of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Jasper.

Though separated by 1,800 miles, members of the respective St. Mary’s had grown close after the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama entered into a formal Companion Diocesan Agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.

The intent was for the two dioceses to work together in ministry, sharing resources, ideas and people.

Bishop Ambrose Gumbs, bishop of the Virgin Islands, has traveled to retreats and conferences at Camp McDowell, the camp and conference center for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

Other clergy and lay people have also made the trip to Alabama, and several women, including two priests, from Virgin Gorda’s St. Mary’s visited St. Mary’s in Jasper and served alongside its members at Camp McDowell.

In September 2017, local church members made contact with their friends in Virgin Gorda after Hurricane Irma struck. Broken windows were the extend of the damage at that time.

“Then came the second hurricane. We heard on the news about further devastation, and we kept praying and sending emails, making calls and sending texts, into a big black hole,” Hinkle said.

The Americans were distressed by news reports that 95 percent of the structures on the island had been damaged. The people of the Virgin Gorda were unable to communicate with them because of the lack of cell and internet service. However, word eventually reached the states that there were no deaths but extensive damage to homes, businesses and churches.

“In October 2017, our vestry (the governing board of our church) made the commitment to go to St. Mary’s in Virgin Gorda to help with their recovery, and we began praying for them every Sunday. The initial problem that we faced was that if we were to go, there was no place to stay and nowhere to get food. Our presence would have caused a huge problem logistically. We therefore waited for the basic infrastructure to be put back in place,” Hinkle said.

At a diocesan convention in February, Bishop Gumbs gave Hinkle the green light to send a team.

The team consisted of 15 people, seven men and eight women, led by local contractor Dowell Freeman.

Freeman, who has been in construction for over 40 years, brought along some of his workers. Most team members were skilled construction workers.

Team members donated their time and travel expenses and the church in Virgin Gorda paid for the materials.

Freeman coordinated with the church’s Virgin Gorda contractor.

Although the team had planned to install sheetrock in the church, it became clear upon their arrival that a new roof was the more pressing need.

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Source: Daily Mountain Eagle