Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The churches of Galveston remain standing.

Spiritual history of Galveston still strong
By TARA DOOLEY Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Sept. 22, 2008, 6:21PM
THE churches remain standing.
The steeples still beckon in the Galveston skyline.
But open the doors, and there are no people.
"Right now, all we have is each other," the Rev. Ron Pogue of Trinity Episcopal Church said from Austin, where he landed after leaving Galveston ahead of Hurricane Ike. "There is nothing we can do about the building."
When Galveston formally reopens to residents Wednesday, many will return to homes devastated by a storm that trampled the island and left behind a pervasive film of sea, sewage and debris.
But they will also return to houses of worship, many of which stand on wobbly legs.
Though the churches and synagogues hold an important place in the lives of their members, those such as Trinity Episcopal also hold a spot in Texas and local history.
"Galveston has an extraordinary wealth of religious architecture from the 19th century," said Stephen Fox, co-author of Galveston: Architecture Guidebook (Rice University Press, $17.95). "In addition, there is a very architecturally significant array of more modest church buildings, especially those associated with African-American congregations."
Last week, most churches remained closed on near-empty streets with tree limbs, dried-up driftwood, waterlogged furniture and caked mud that cracked underfoot like ancient eggshells. Members of some churches and synagogues gathered in hotels, basketball courts and sanctuaries without power for weekend services.
Others such as First Baptist Church and Trinity Episcopal started the work of cleaning up, flinging doors open to exchange heavy, moist air with breezes and dehumidifying machines that buzz overtime to save any interior woodwork that withstood the initial trauma.
St. Mary Cathedral Basilica, Texas' first Catholic cathedral, was most hard hit of the island's Catholic churches, said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, who ventured Thursday to Galveston.
"There it is, standing," DiNardo said. "So that is good. But there really is a lot of water damage and mud. It is just heartbreaking."
The cathedral basilica, which shares duties as the home pulpit for the cardinal with the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in downtown Houston, is a significant historic building for Texas.
"It was the first monumental work of civil architecture built in Texas after the Spanish mission churches of the San Antonio River Valley," said Fox, an adjunct lecturer at Rice University and the University of Houston.
The basilica, completed in 1848, was also the first substantial example of Gothic revival architecture built in Texas, he said.
In addition to the basilica, the Sacred Heart Catholic Church suffered water damage. But the gleaming white exterior — a religious fortress, rebuilt after being destroyed in the storm of 1900 — remained largely unharmed, DiNardo said.
Among the archdiocese's oldest churches in Galveston, St. Patrick fared the best, he said.
Already crews have assessed the situation and expect to get to work soon, DiNardo said. The costs of cleanup and restoration were not yet calculated, he said.
Repairing the basilica would be a priority, DiNardo said. But churches on the mainland also suffered damage. Helping those in need after the storm and restoring parish life would also require immediate attention.
"The people ... are the priority," DiNardo said.
The first Reform congregation in Texas was Temple B'nai Israel. The synagogue moved from its original building in the 1950s. The current synagogue on Avenue O suffered some damage, especially in the offices and the chapel, said Rabbi Jimmy Kessler. But he reported the congregation's seven Torah scrolls, including two that came to the congregation when it opened in 1868, survived without harm.
Work had begun at many churches last week.
Red carpet was dragged out of First Baptist Church and the red cloth-covered pews, contaminated by water from the storm, were removed by a small army of employees dressed in white coveralls and wearing gloves and masks.
"Getting in here as early as we did, there is not as much secondary damage," said Brad Bridges, co-owner of a Denton-based ServiceMaster Clean, the company charged with salvaging the church.
Doors also were flung open in the school and church of Trinity Episcopal. Workers wrung water out of carpets, then dragged them outside.
For Kevin L. Dahlberg, the contractor charged with salvaging the insides of Trinity, the job was personal.
"It's not just part of my work," said Dahlberg, who was married at Trinity five years ago. "It's very near and dear to my heart. I'm glad we could be here to help."
Trinity, which survived the great hurricane of 1900 with major damage to one wall, evidently remained structurally sound. But a panel from a Tiffany stained-glass window above the altar lay in shards on the ground.
"I'm relieved that the church is still standing," said William K. Macdonald, a church member who had returned to Galveston last week and stopped by to assess Trinity after checking on his home and that of a relative. "I haven't seen all the damage. But I have faith in the members of the church and the diocese to restore it to its former grandeur."
For the Rev. Eddie R. Johnson, his first steps into Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church Thursday were shocking, he said.
"When I walked in here and when everything was just how we left it, I was praising God for what he's done," said Johnson, pastor of the church, one of the oldest black congregations in the state.
Besides some ceiling damage that left a few pieces of white paint on the floor of the entryway, the church was dry and clean. Even before power and water were restored to the church, Johnson said he was talking with pastors of some of the other city churches to offer his sanctuary to their members as they struggle to recover from Hurricane Ike.
"For what he has done, we cannot be selfish," Johnson said.

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