a painting of Mr. Parks, Tangier Island

A painting of Mr. Parks from the Tangier Island History Museum.

Haze covered everything by afternoon of our sail.

The seas became choppier and at about every third wave (the highest of the sets which rolled in), we’d have to make sure we were holding onto something so as not to roll ourselves! Whitecaps appeared throughout the Bay area between Solomons Island and Tangier Island. The wind held steady at 10 knots, gusting to 20.  A little rough, but not too bad a sail.

Originally headed for the Potomac River, our sail set took us to the Eastern shores of the Bay, along Hooper Island and by the Honga River. The weather began to change, and we worried some.

As we watched the sky turn very ominous in an area to the east, we reefed our main. Good sailors reef early (pull down some of the main sail) when they expect a squall, so as not to rip your sails. We kept enough sail up to hopefully outrun the storm, which passed to our aft uneventfully.

Another popped up to our East. A sailboat in distress made a frantic call for help to the Coast Guard, as they took on water. Another boat, Sea Dog, was close enough to lend aid, but the boat in distress deemed they were able to stay ahead of the incoming water.

A tugboat captain reported unusual weather in that vicinity with 2 foot seas, 20 – 30 knot wind gusts and driving rain reducing visibility to ¼ mile. We took in our jib sail, in case that squall headed our way, and worried a bit more.

We were keeping one eye to the weather, one eye to what we could see, one ear to our VHF radio, and looking at the charts determined it was better to stay on the Eastern side of the Bay and head for Tangier Island.

The last time we’d been to Tangier Island was 9 years ago, but we felt like we were coming home to visit with Mr. Parks who runs the marina.

82 y.o. Mr. Parks rode out on his purple scooter to tie us up into Slip #22. As we pulled into the slip, we ran aground! But soft ground, and being low tide, we pushed forward carefully knowing we’d have to leave on a higher tide. It was 1:30pm, and now we could relax!

As we were tying up, I greeted Mr. Parks as if we’d been friends forever. He says he remembers us. I’m not sure, but either way Mr. Parks is always going to make you feel right at home. I asked how he’d been.

“Well, lost my wife last year. It’s been hard. Then, the dog died. Do you think it’s possible to grieve a dog dying?” he said in his cockney drawl with a nervous chuckle at the end.

His eyes spoke the truth. He was weathering tougher storms than we just dodged on the Bay.

The weather of life makes for a lot of things. In Mr. Parks it makes for community. His stories and his life build community wherever he stands. It’s an amazing gift to watch unfold. I wish I could bring Mr. Parks home to you! He shares what’s hurting and the community becomes the salve to help.

We got to talking about going to the Virginia Annual Conference and he started telling his life stories of “religion” saying he figured it was how you lived out what you knew about faith. I figured he is right.

He offered to give us a personal tour of his church, the one he loves. In that lovely place, he had trouble explaining why it was so special to him. He showed us a picture of the pastor, Rev. Swain, who built Tangier Island United Methodist Church, in 1899.

The young pastor believed it possible to build a church, even though the island couldn’t afford such an endeavor. Lots of kids didn’t get anything to eat regular. Mr. Parks says he’s one of the lucky ones because he always had something to eat. Yet, the young pastor believed.

That pastor’s prayers became legendary. He prayed like this, “Oh Lord, we can’t build a church here unless the people have the means to pay for it. So, Lord, would you bless the people’s work and bring in the money.”

Mr. Parks says that very year, people who had been starving began to earn money.

The island remembers it as one of the miracles of God’s own doing.

Another time, this same pastor was doing a funeral and it was pouring down rain. He stepped outside, raised his hands, and asked the Lord to hold off the rain until their proceedings were done. (You can’t bury anyone in Tangier Island if the water is too high!) “Not one drop hit again until the burial was done,” exclaimed Mr. Parks.

I asked Mr. Parks how the population was doing today. He looked down at the ground. “We once had 1200 people. But the business

[meaning crabbing and fishing companies] has been pulling out. We’re down to 500.” And at another time he spoke sadly of a church split, where politics created a schism; half of the church defecting to a nondenominational church down the road a spell. I realized this mattered to Mr. Parks because it was like half his family left “the family” over arguments. Family arguments leave deep wounds, don’t they?

A lot to grieve.  A lot to remember.  A lot to be thankful for; a lot to ask God why about.  A lot of life.

One last story of Mr. Parks  (… he has lots of stories!).  When his wife was about to leave this world for heaven, she told him he’d better take care of feeding her some 30 cats, or she’d come back to haunt him! Hilarious, isn’t it?

I see another “small” miracle of God’s, because the cats remind Mr. Parks of the things he and his wife loved together. Everywhere you go on Tangier, there’s a whole mess of cats! (Our dog, Rudee, thought it was the most fascinating place.) I think the Parks’ had a lot to do with the cat population! Sometimes we need a feline community to bring healing, and God knows what we need.

I’ve learned in “weathering the storms of life” to look around for the gifts God is sending our way. God is working, even when we are not seeing it at the moment.

For some odd reason, I have felt like Mr. Parks was a part of “my family” since I spent time with him for 3 days about 9 years earlier. I haven’t spoken to him since. I am grateful to catch up and want him to know he is loved by us . . . and by an incredible God. A strong God powered Love may allow us to weather the storms.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said tell tell people God is near. (Mark 1:15)

Would you join me in praying for Tangier Island and Mr. Parks today?

[P.S.] After leaving Mr. Parks, at 5:15 pm that evening, the Coast Guard put out warnings for our portion of the Bay for water spouts, bad thunderstorms, and wind gusts possible of capsizing boats! I’m glad we are nestled in at Mr. Parks’ marina tonight. Thank you God. Protect those out on the water, and watch over our lives wherever we are.