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It would be the first time in 21 years that Cornerstone United Methodist Church didn’t hold Sunday services. Hurricane Irma was headed toward Naples as a Category 5, and the congregation of 240 or so was already hunkering down.
|Storm preparations were already underway at the evacuation barn in Perry, Georgia, while Rev. Roy Terry and his wife and daughter worked to shuttle 18 horses from Naples.|
Rev. Roy Terry, who helped launch Cornerstone, was already in Georgia with his wife, Leslie Terry, and his daughter, Emily Peterson, both professional equestrians caring for 18 horses.
“I married into the horse business, and part of the deal when we met at Florida Southern was that wherever we were, I would always support her and the horses,” Terry recalled later.
So, when the lines at local gas stations started getting long, Leslie and Emily packed up nine of the horses and headed to Perry, Georgia, then turned around and came back for the other nine and Rev. Terry, who met them at 2 a.m. for the 14-hour trip north.
“Being in Naples 21 years, it’s not like I haven’t experienced hurricanes before,” he said. “When Wilma hit, we turned the horses into large pasture and knew they’d be safe. But more recently, we leased a farm downtown; and with the storm surge and the category of the hurricane, we decided it would be best to evacuate.”
But doing so left a void in his heart, having departed Naples and his congregation. So, Terry got busy writing a liturgy he could share with his parishioners on Facebook, along with some prayers to get them through the darkest moments.
“Being a pastor, staying in contact with the congregation was very important to me,” Terry said. “I did a lot of writing about being prepared and what required patience, who to contact and how to check in on each other. I sent advice on not rushing into situations until first responders let us know it’s safe.
“A lot of our folks are not native Floridians, so they had never experienced a hurricane before. Every day, I was writing or doing a video clip for them. Then it got to the day of the storm, and I just realized we weren’t going to be able to worship together for the first time in 21 years.”
The diverse, close-knit Cornerstone UMC congregation would get words of hope and assurance of safety through their pastor’s words.
“During the time we would be worshiping was when everybody was hunkering down. I wrote a worship service; a liturgy people could use at home and invited them to get a candle, if they had one, or get a flashlight to symbolize the light of Christ breaking through the darkness. I drew on John, Chapter 1, about how darkness cannot overcome the light.”
Terry gave them readings and suggestions on how to do that together.
“Take turns reading. Let the kids read if you’re all huddled in a closet together. I also wrote a couple prayers for people. We are a Eucharist-centered community, so we take communion at every service. We had a big prayer of Thanksgiving in that liturgy.
“I sent it out, and people were sharing it and sending it to their neighbors. You are not really aware of the impact of that kind of communication until afterward. When we got back home, quite a few folks in the conference and lot of the parishioners were very appreciative,” he said.
It was the pastor’s way of bringing everyone together and providing comfort during the storm.
“Several of them said they were so appreciative for the prayers in the liturgy that they kept praying those prayers over and over again. Several folks followed through with gathering lights together. It reminded them they are not alone,” Terry said.
“We were all riding out the storm.”
--Yvette Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.