Friday, October 07, 2005

Another Gulfport Report -- from the good folks at First Pres Coral Springs/Margate

Jay Fontanini of First Presbyterian Church Coral Springs-Margate, Florida (where Rick Phillips is the Pastor) has written the following, encouraging report on last Sunday Evening's ordination/installation service in Biloxi.

Last Sunday, Pastor Phillips and I were blessed to have the opportunity to go and visit our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Gulfcoast Region.
To get there, we left immediately after morning worship for a 2:00 flight to Altanta. We were scheduled to have a 35-minute layover before departing for Gulfport, where we were supposed to arrive at 4:41 - plenty of time to make the 6:00 worship service for the installation of Guy Richard as the shepherd of FPC Gulfport.

"Mr. Fantastic" at the AirTran counter alerted us to the fact that we would likely miss our connection, as our 2:00 flight was delayed until 2:29. 35-minutes is a tough window for connection, 6-minutes is a closed window. He found us an alternative on Delta, which would arrive in Gulfport about an hour later, meaning we would miss a good deal of the worship service, assuming of course that we were able to get someone from Airtran in Atlanta to authorize the transfer, someone from Delta to accept it, and then made a successful train trip within the Atlanta airport. In human terms - not possible, not worth it, and not likely. We decided to go, knowing that we might end up just turning around and coming home from Atlanta. We took advantage of the delay to eat a lovely pork sloppy joe after a brief prayer seeking our Lord's intervention in travel.

Upon arrival in Altanta, some 5-minutes later than our connection was scheduled to leave, I asked the gate attendant, "where is the flight to Gulfport," expecting to hear, "I'm sorry sir, it has already departed." Instead, I heard, "Gate C6, hurry, they are waiting for YOU!" Thank you Lord for answered prayers.

We were greeted in Gulfport by a relief worker from Virginia and shuttled to FPC Biloxi, where the installation service was graciously being hosted, pulling into the parking lot at 5:58 - enough time to enter the sanctuary, get a bottle of water and quickly greet folks. I admit that I always get a little choked up at ordinations, but this one took the cake. I'll not go into detail, but you can read Dr. Ligon Duncan's post for more information.

I spent the night with a lovely couple who had sustained only roof and landscaping damage. It was great just to sit and chat with a couple who had gotten married at FPC Gulfport year'a ago - it gave me a great perspective into the life of the church. The next morning we toured the area with Pastor Richard and also met with a few folks on the ground to discuss relief trips.

The take away for me from the whirlwind trip was two-fold. First, there is nothing so beautiful as the body of Christ. It is a joy to minister in Christ's name, loving people without even knowing them. At one point the elder we met with said, "I don't understand it, I don't know Rick Phillips or Jay Fontanini or First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs-Margate, Florida, I don't understand why you care so much." I explained to him, "this is our church, too." The second is this, when the Lord uses us, he does so in a meaningful way. Our response made an impact far beyond the fiscal and physical. Several people from the Gulfport congregation mentioned that their first source of information about what had happened in Gulfport was from our church's website. They were stunned to read the reports, more stunned that the news was coming from Florida, but most stunned by our response. The thing that we gave them was hope. They realized that even while they were knocked down and likely out, there were other parts of the Body of Christ standing, and therefore they were standing.

Pray for the church in Gulfport, MS. Pray that they will show the joy that surpasses all understanding, so that the glorious Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be proclaimed amidst the devastation. Pray that the rest of us won't forget about them 6-months from now as they fear.

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