StUrsula’s.StJohnUSVI.LynetteWilsonENS

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the U.S. Mid-Atlantic states, let’s look at how the U.S. Virgin Islands are faring a year after being walloped by Maria and Irma: many homes and buildings, including Episcopal churches, remain in disrepair. This is St. Ursula’s on the island of St. John. The entrance is blocked by pieces of the bell tower. Windows are boarded up. We see sheets of “FEMA blue” tarp where the roof ought to be. There is no money for shingles, which have to be shipped in from the mainland (with a mandatory stop in next-door Puerto Rico, which needs them too). Everything costs twice as much, and even if shingles could be obtained, there’s no one to make repairs because all the contractors have long waiting lists. Parishioners have little money for the church; their roofs are FEMA blue too, and they leak after every rain. The hospitality industry is the main economic engine, but the big resorts are still closed for remodeling and no new ones have opened. St. John Island is packed with luxury homes owned by absentee millionaires, who rent to tourists by the week, rather than homeowners who care for their communities. Clergy are poor, the diocese is poor, parishioners are just trying to make ends meet, feed their families and send their kids to whatever school is back open. Conditions are likely to remain this way for years – the diocese has 14 churches in the U.S. and British territories – until mainland churches send teams of volunteers; and those folks will need places to stay. One parish has set up a little dormitory to house them, but it’s booked solid. The U.S. government has poured in billions, but not for the repair of spiritual/community centers. The islanders are very resilient, but their only option is to make do for now with what’s left. (Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service)

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