From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Texas Episcopalians find themselves at center of Columbia tragedy
Mon, 3 Feb 2003 15:58:43 -0500
February 3, 2003
Episcopalians: Texas Episcopalians find themselves at center of
by Steven Lightfoot
(ENS) The breakup of the Columbia orbiter over the vast north
central area of the Diocese of Texas, which includes Houston's
Johnson Space Center within its boundaries, has opened an
intimate window to the tragedy for the diocesan community.
Churches in the NASA area and in the path of the Columbia debris
field came together in the aftermath of the recent national
One of the Columbia astronauts' children attended second grade
at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School in Nassau Bay, south
of Houston. "[Mission Specialist] Laurel Clark's eight-year-old
son is a second grader at the school," said the Rev. John
Musgrave, rector of the parish. "The congregation is deeply
affected by the loss of his mother," he added.
Soon after the shuttle broke apart, diocesan employee Rebecca
Sweitzer received a message from her sister-in-law, Marilyn
Boone, in Jasper.
"I heard the shuttle when it broke up," Boone said. "It was a
long, rolling, thunderous, roaring noise that went on and on."
She added, "My friends in Nacogdoches tell me that it isn't Do
you have debris in your yard?' but How much debris do you have
in your yard?'"
Saturday morning, as debris from the spacecraft littered the
highway and roadside, the Rev. Gary Hill, rector of Christ
Church in Nacogdoches, was on his way to a vestry retreat. "I
saw pieces of stuff' on the road, but I did not know what they
were until I arrived at the retreat," he said.
Hill reported that the vestry watched some of the broadcast news
and then prayed for the astronauts and their families. "Our
hearts were broken," he added.
Christ Church in Nacogdoches reported an increase in Sunday's
attendance, as did many other congregations.
The Rev. Hugh Bell, rector of St. Cyprian's in Lufkin, said that
his Sunday service included a dedicated Eucharist for the
astronauts and their families. The Collect for Burial was read
from the Book of Common Prayer and the names of the astronauts
were included in the Prayers of the People. Many congregations
whose churches lie in the path of Columbia's debris field had
similar Sunday services. Some read the passage from Isaiah 40
quoted by President George Bush in his initial address to the
nation immediately following the tragedy.
"We had to go over the grounds to ensure that the school could
open," Bell said, expressing the congregation's concern that
hazardous debris could endanger students at St. Cyprian's
Episcopal School, adjacent to the church.
South of the fallout, in Houston, the effects of the Columbia
disaster were less immediately hazardous but equally
Musgrave said that his parish held a Saturday night prayer vigil
the evening of the tragedy. More than 300 people attended.
Numerous NASA employees and their families are parishioners at
St. Thomas the Apostle, including many who knew the Columbia
Holy Trinity in nearby Dickinson also held a memorial service
Saturday night. "The Saturday night service helped parishioners
and the greater community focus on the tragedy," the Rev. James
Hamilton said. A local Indian family attended to honor Mission
Specialist Kalpana Chawla and the Columbia crew. Employees from
NASA also attended.
One of the parishioners at Holy Trinity was especially touched
by the tragedy. She had driven the crewmembers' families to the
airport for their trip to Florida and Columbia's landing. She
was to pick them up on their return to Houston.
The daughter of another parishioner at Trinity is the head of
the recovery effort for NASA, coordinating the various agencies
efforts. "We are making pastoral calls to parishioners who are
involved and trying to help them through this," Hamilton said.
'Embrace them now'
The Rev. Vincent Uher, retired priest, wrote a special verse to
be added to the hymn "Eternal Father, strong to save," often
known as the Navy Hymn. It is a favorite among parishioners
across the diocese. Uher said that he used the passage in Isaiah
that President Bush quoted and also the poem that President
Reagan quoted after the Challenger disaster.
"O God who names the starry host
and by whose love not one is lost,
who stretched thy arms wide to the sky
from cross to heav'n so death would die
Oh care for those who traversed space,
Embrace them now who touch thy face."
"Our diocese joins with all Americans as we offer prayers of
support for the families of the Columbia crewmembers," the Rt.
Rev. Don Wimberly, bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Texas,
said. "The tragedy reminds us of the uncertainty and
preciousness of life. It shows us that we need to be more
intentional about living day to day and more loving to those
close to us," he added.
--Steven Lightfoot is assistant editor of the Texas
Episcopalian, the newspaper of the Diocese of Texas.
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