“A Pastor Doesn’t Leave His People”
By: Sherri Gragg
It has been often said that heroes don’t always wear capes, and it is true.
Sometimes, they wear clerical collars.
Church Members in Crisis
Pastor David Daviss, St. Paul UMC, Port Arthur readily admits he is in the last stretch of his life’s ministry. Countless Sundays preaching the word of God and long evenings at the bedside of the sick and suffering lie behind him. Early mornings on his farm in Palestine and quiet evenings with his wife, Elza, beckon to him from the golden years of retirement ahead.
But none of that stopped Daviss from acting with incredible courage and conviction in the care of his flock as Harvey’s waters rose.
On the night of Harvey’s predicted landfall over Port Arthur, Daviss stood watching the water rise in the street in front of the parsonage. The weather forecast promised little more than rain. When Daviss went to bed, it was with the confidence that the pumps would do their job and all would be well. He was jolted from sleep by ringing of his phone around midnight.
“Pastor,” 75-year-old church member Carolyn Gunner said, “Its flooding over here.”
“Do you want me to come get you?” Daviss asked.
“I will let you know,” she replied.
Daviss rolled over, closed his eyes for a moment and then got out of bed, dressed and headed out into the storm for the first of many times over the next 24 hours. As he drove his truck toward the Gunner residence, the water grew deeper and deeper. By the time he turned onto their street, the water was past his truck’s bumper and he could no longer see the road before him. He spotted a stop sign at the end of the street and used it as a guide to keep his truck on the road. When he stepped out onto the Gunner’s driveway, the icy water was up to his knees.
The elderly couple’s home was flooded and the water was rising fast. “You can’t stay here,” he told them. “We are going to the parsonage.”
Protecting His Flock
Once safely home, Daviss helped the exhausted couple get settled for the night before returning to bed himself. A couple of hours later, he awakened once again and this time when he swung his feet over the side of the bed, they hit water.
“They were sleeping so good,” he said. “I didn’t want to alarm them, so I went to the kitchen and put on a strong pot of coffee. The scent roused them.”
Once again, the three friends loaded into Daviss’s truck and fled the rising water. This time, their goal was to find shelter in their church, St. Paul UMC, Port Arthur. After they arrived safely and found the church dry, Daviss had Mrs. Gunner begin calling fellow church members to find out if they needed help. With each answer of distress, Daviss went back out into the storm to bring his people to safety. Many of them were still in their flooded homes, but some had made it to an overwhelmed shelter in the community center. “It was chaos in there,” Daviss said. “Whenever I saw my members, I removed them from the centers and took them back to the church. Busses were flooding and running off the road, but God allowed me to go into the neighborhoods to get my people.”
Feed My Sheep
When the last rescue mission was complete, more than two dozen members of St. Paul UMC, Port Arthur were safely sheltered in the church. Daviss knew it wasn’t enough. He picked up the phone and called his District Superintendent, the Rev. Alicia Coltzer Besser, to tell her his people were safe but without food or water. She told him that if he could get to the mall ten miles away in Beaumont she could supply him with food for as long as he needed it.
For the final time that day, Daviss steered his truck back into the flood waters. As he drove down the interstate toward Beaumont he watched as the other side of the road, his route home, clogged with the cars of evacuees. Even if he made it to the mall to pick up the food, his way back to his church members was impassable. When he finally arrived at his exit, he found that Beaumont residents were being evacuated by helicopter because the other side of the interstate was closed due to flooding.
But his people needed supplies. So with a trailer of food and water securely attached to the back of his truck, he made the only choice he knew to make. He turned around and got back on the interstate to go back the way he had come.
“I drove all the way back on the wrong side of the interstate,” he said. “I made it back to the church with the food, and from there, we rode out the storm. Every so often, like Noah, I went out to see if the waters had begun to recede. On the second day, I was able to begin taking the members back to their homes.”
Heroes and Shepherds
According to Oxford’s English Dictionary, a hero is “someone who is admired for his or her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” It seems unquestionable that Daviss fits the job description but he recoils at the term, opting instead for what he feels is a better one-
He recalls the moment during the disaster when his distressed daughter called, upset that he didn’t leave the safety of his retirement home in Palestine when he had the chance. The idea inconceivable to Daviss. How could a pastor leave his people?
“All you can do,” he said through tears, “is what the Lord allows you to do. I am thankful there is a God. Wouldn’t it be tough without one?”