When a couple from the Florida Keys escaped the wrath of Hurricane Irma in early September, little did they know that their evacuation would lead to a heartfelt outreach for the church they loved.
Dan and Jane Ferguson, who are parishioners at St. James the Fisherman in Islamorada, fled to Vero Beach when Irma roared ashore in the Keys as a Category 4 storm. When they arrived in Indian River County, the couple wanted to attend a worship service. Via text, they discovered the nearest church was Trinity Episcopal in Vero Beach.
“It was 11:45 a.m., and a service was to begin at 12,” recalled St. James rector, the Rev. Tom Graf. “They attended the service and were graciously welcomed by all.”
Following the service, Trinity rector, the Rev. Christopher Rodriguez, approached the couple and asked them about their church. “After Irma struck, we had our regular Wednesday noon healing mass,” Rodriguez said. “There was a couple I did not recognize, and after the service I introduced myself and learned that they had evacuated the Keys to Vero, where their son lives. They thanked us for having the service and for giving them a chance to thank the Lord for saving their lives and to pray for their community.”
Rodriguez then asked for Graf’s contact information and called him, expressing an interest in helping St. James the Fisherman. “I called him up and Father Graf said that what they needed was money since they had ample food and clothing,” Rodriguez said. “So I made a direct appeal to the people of Trinity Vero Beach at announcements one Sunday and via email. In 10 days, we collected over $5,000 for the people of St James.
“Incidentally, this occurred just two weeks after we had a similar collection of $4,800 for Hurricane Harvey hitting Houston,” Rodriguez said. “The money went to Father Graf’s discretionary fund so that he could allocate it to the folks in need.”
Rodriguez and the Rev. James Johnson, an ordained PCA minister who worships at Trinity, visited St. James the Fisherman on Wednesday, Sept. 27, to present the check and then continued south to witness other devastation in the Keys.
“Ours is a small parish, and it had already been a difficult year financially, so this gracious gift from God came at just the right time,” Graf said. “We will be eternally grateful to Father Chris and his caring church for their generosity and support.”
For Rodriguez, the most important thing was a direct partnership between the two parishes. “The folks of Trinity knew precisely where the money was going and that it was going to serve fellow Episcopalians in the southern part of our state,” he said. “There was a definite sense that ‘it could have been us.’ I knew that the people of Trinity were very sympathetic and empathic with the suffering of the people of St. James. We plan to do some additional work with St. James in the future. I speak for the people of Trinity that it was an awesome privilege for the opportunity to serve the people of St. James.”