Church building battle heats up

June 17, 2009 1:59:03 PM PDT
Parishioners fighting to keep their damaged church from being demolished are facing off with the Galveston-Houston archdiocese. The congregation is working to rebuild their lives and community along Bolivar Peninsula following Hurricane Ike. The archdiocese says rebuilding on the coast is in its plans. But the damaged church near Port Bolivar is set to be torn down. Parishioners got together, leaning on their faith. It was the first time since Hurricane Ike parishioners gathered for Mass, but not exactly as they planned. While their sanctuary survived the hurricane, they still might lose it after all.

Our Mother of Mercy is still standing on Bolivar Peninsula but when parishioners held their first Mass in nine months, they held it six blocks away from their church home.

Parishioner Talisa Comeaux said, "Right now we don't have anywhere to give funerals, weddings, baptisms."

Parishioners attended Mass at a Methodist Church down the street led by the protestant preacher. Our Mother of Mercy's priest Father Joseph was told not to come to the Mass by the archdiocese. They say he was not given permission because he did not follow the proper channels.

"We've lost our homes, businesses, and now they are taking our church," said parishioner Rhea Senseney-Hemmings.

While the church survived the storm, the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was ready to demolish it. Some parish members say they couldn't bear to watch.

"I didn't see it," explained parishioner Shirley Senseney. "I didn't want to come see it. (It hurts that bad.)"

The archdiocese proposes building a new sanctuary and community center on Crystal Ceach, but parishioners believe they should have a say in that.

"It's the people's church, the people are the church," said Rhea Senseney-Hemmings. "They built that church. My mother is 77 and she is one of the ones who helped work for it"

Members of the parish have filed a restraining order in court which prevents any demolition for 14 days.

Parishioner W.O. Greb said, "I got the first daughter who was baptized in the church and the last granddaughter that was married in the church. It means a whole lot to us."

While Our Mother of Cercy may need repairs, they still want it to be their church home. The archdiocese and parishioners are expected to be back in court this week. Until a decision is made, a sheriff's deputy has been hired by the archdiocese to keep an eye on the church grounds.

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