What a Difference a Week Makes!
The conference call via Skype was a moving experience of mutual concern with the Anglican Communion. With participants in Australia, the States, Barbados, London and elsewhere who represented organisations such as Anglican Overseas Aid, Episcopal Relief and Development, the Mothers’ Union and the Anglican Communion Office, the call focused on the needs of the Diocese of North East Caribbean and Aruba (NECA) post the devastation wreaked by hurricane Irma and hurricane Maria. It was the Anglican world-wide family working together to respond to a sister diocese in need. What I had seen on the news now became even more real as Bishop Errol, the Diocesan Bishop of NECA, described the impact of these level five hurricanes on what is one of our linked Caribbean Dioceses.
The island of Barbuda is now uninhabitable and the entire population of 1500 people has been evacuated to Antigua. Anguilla, St Barths and St Maartens have terrible damage, including the loss of vital services, with similar reports from Saba and St Eustatius. Many of the churches have been damaged or destroyed. On Dominica, which suffered worst under hurricane Maria, not only is access to the island compromised through destruction of the port, but there has also been looting on the island. Tourism, that is crucial to the economy of these islands, has been traumatically disrupted. Bishop Errol reports that so far fifteen people are known to have been killed.
The need for assistance and prayer as the island communities rebuild is pressing and significant. The people are resilient, but they need our help. It is encouraging to hear of the £8000 that has already been raised in response to Bishop Alan’s Appeal. I hope that there will be many other collections to support our brothers and sisters in the Leeward Islands.
But what a difference a week makes (to adapt Dinah Washington’s song)! Seven days before hurricane Irma struck I returned home after nine days with Bishop Errol in NECA. I had been there, with Revd David Kesterton from Luton, to represent our Diocese at the celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of the Diocese. Preaching to a packed Cathedral I touched on the themes that the Diocese had chosen for their anniversary year – Celebrating our Heritage; Seizing the Moment; Embracing the Future. There was a joyful and powerful sense of the way in which God had blessed his people over the years and a confidence as they looked forward. However, ‘Never in our wildest dreams’ as Bishop Errol has put it, ‘did we anticipate that a few days later, several of our islands would be visited by two major hurricanes.’ These are testing times. Yet, I know that the faith that has sustained them over the last 175 years, is the faith that will sustain them at this time of trial. It is the promise of God acclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isaiah 43:2).
Bishop Richard, Bedford
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A few images from Bishop Richard’s visit to the NECA celebration at St John’s Cathedral, Antigua