AUSTIN, Texas (March 9, 2018)—Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, with assistance from The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) and the Texas Presbyterian Foundation, announces the development of “Shelter from the Storm: Telling Our Stories, Finding God,” a two-weekend retreat for pastors in the Houston area who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey.
On September 5, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the coast of Texas, resulting in the flooding of Houston and the surrounding areas. Harvey caused over $125 billion in damages, displacing more then 37,000 people and damaging over 200,00 homes. In an effort to support ministers who were affected by the storm, Austin Seminary developed a weekend retreat in mid-February to be followed by a second retreat in May. Thirteen pastors from the affected areas participated in the February retreat and more may be added for the May event.
Conversations among Seminary President Ted Wardlaw, Lynn Hargrove (MDiv’01), from New Covenant Presbytery, and Phil Helsel, assistant professor of pastoral care, resulted in retreat models that include elements of body, mind, and spiritual care. Austin Seminary then invited the Board of Pensions and the Texas Presbyterian Foundation to support this creative and therapeutic program, and both organizations agreed to provide financial assistance for the two retreats. Frank Spencer, of the Board of Pensions, says, “We wanted to assist members of our Benefits Plan to give them the freedom to participate without additional costs in a time of dislocation and economic hardship.”
Participants were offered an invitation to the retreat based upon recommendations from the affected presbytery’s moderators and on the “triple threat” scenario of damage to one’s home, damage to one’s church, and damage to the homes of many members of the congregation, with priority given to those pastors who experienced all three.
The February retreat consisted of structured conversations, open time for practicing self-care, shared meals, and a worship service. The Reverends Suzanne Malloy and John Cheek from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance led conversations on mindfulness, prayer, and mental health after disaster. Also on hand was Dr. Andrew Reichert, a local therapist; Professor Helsel and President Wardlaw led the group in worship.
The Reverend Laureen Suba (MDiv’14), Austin Seminary alumna, spoke about the many ways in which taking the time away from her situation in Houston to spend in conversation with other ministers will help her when she returns. “This is a place that is dear to my heart. I felt positive joys coming through, and that to me is what this retreat is about. It’s the aspect of not feeling like you’re alone.” Laureen continued, describing the connectional community that formed over the weekend, saying, “This morning at breakfast we were talking about taxes. One of the ministers here is a former tax accountant, and I ended up talking to her about how to tackle our rising insurance costs. There is a community here, true colleagues, with experience and wisdom that we can share with each other.”