Monday, October 30, 2006

The Importance of Helping the Gulf Coast

First of: I hope to have pictures up next week. We'll see. Now, on to today's post.

A friend of mine recently said, “It's the state of Louisiana's job to fix up their city, not the federal government’s.” A relative has often asked me why so many volunteers are needed, telling me the residents need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Those who say the people of the Gulf Coast must help themselves are correct, but the hurricane victims can’t do it alone. The challenge is too immense for such a small band of residents. If your house burned down, you would turn to your neighbors for help, no? Whether for emotional support, financial assistance, or help with manual labor, you would turn to your family, your church, to someone. There’s no way you could do everything, step by step, by yourself.

But what if everyone at church had also had their house burn down? And your neighbors, your friends, your family, too? Because that’s what happened here. You can’t help me rebuild my house, because you’re busy rebuilding yours.

So it is not the individual residents, but the city that must turn to its neighbors for help. Except the next city is in the same rut; it’s not just New Orleans. Slidell was hit hard, Biloxi was hit hard, Gulfport, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Lake Charles, Port Arthur, etc. And the Mississippi and Louisiana state governments can only do so much, because they still have to pay for infrastructure and other governmental functions. This why we have a strong national government – it is a way for the larger community to step forward when the smaller ones can’t. (Nonprofit volunteer groups and private sector donations are also part of the larger community stepping forward.)

And remember, there’s so much more to life in New Orleans than rebuilding – you still have to work, get the kids to school, spend time paying the bills, and take care of your ailing mother. None of that went away, gutting, rebuilding, and waiting through 15-hour lines at parish offices joined them, they didn’t replace them. You can’t do it alone – you need the nation to remember your plight.

But this is not to say the locals aren’t trying. I’ve only gutted one house so far this trip, but at that one house, the homeowner’s son rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a hammer and a mask, and pitched right in. This is harder than it sounds – he had to get time off work to join us, something many bosses aren’t very good about. Then he had to smash away his memories. He spoke of the many wonderful Italian meals his mother made in that kitchen. When his friend came by and saw a small pile of pots and pans we had salvaged, he sadly asked if that was all that was left of Mama Bella’s kitchen. That’s hard for a person to face, but there he was. And he’s not the only one – I hear lower ninth ward stories every day about people rebuilding their homes, about struggling through obtuse government documents and protocol, and about keeping hope despite the overwhelming tasks ahead. One lady asked the other day if we knew where she could get sheetrock. I spoke today to a man who had just finished installing sheetrock in his house. We had one fellow who fell off his roof and was feeling a bit woozy (he’s ok now). Trust me, these folks aren't goofing off all day.

But they can’t do it alone, which is where we come in. And trust me, they are grateful for it. While we do see the occasional ingrate in the lower ninth, it’s rare. We see far more smiles, far more thank yous, far more bless yous, far more keep it ups. There are some wonderful thank you notes from community members taped to the RV wall. We’ve had many people tell us our presence reminds them they’re not forgotten, and it gives them hope. One lady said last week we can never know just how much we’ve really done for them. Another man, two weeks ago, gratefully told us we’ve given out more food in the ninth ward than anyone else (I bet that distinction goes to Common Ground, but the point was his gratitude). If you can come down here on a spring break trip, a winter break trip, or a vacation from work, I encourage you to do so. As you can see, our presence here is needed and must continue to be felt.

Let me conclude with these remarks from Bishop Jenkins’s blog: “If the Church does not raise a cry for justice, no one will. If the Church does not continue to feed the poor, house the homeless, heal the sick and give hope where it has been washed away, no one will. I think our efforts in Louisiana are exemplary as are those good works done in Christ's name in Mississippi. I think the work of the Church in Mississippi and Louisiana is a work of which Episcopalians can be proud. I think our stewardship of all that is entrusted to us, most of which is for relief work, is exemplary.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Other Diocesan Projects

Although I’m in the lower ninth ward with the mobile respite unit, that’s only a small part of the Diocese’s recovery efforts. I thought you might be interested in knowing about some of the other ministries the Church is running. This list is in no way complete; it’s only the things I’ve heard a lot about or seen for myself. All numbers and statistics come from here.

- The Mobile Respite Unit. You know about this one; it’s what I’m working on. We served over 40,000 people between December and August.
- The St. Anna’s Mobile Medical Mission: St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on Esplanade sends an RV to various neighborhoods with a medical team. Volunteer nurses check blood pressure, blood sugar, mental health, etc., and can point patients in the direction of other resources. They sometimes have a doctor, and join us in the lower ninth Walgreen’s parking lot twice a week. The unit has helped over 3,000 people.
- Mobile Loaves and Fishes is a program from Austin, TX that sends trucks to poor neighborhoods with free meals. Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans started running a Loaves and Fishes truck in January, and they join us in the ninth a couple times a week with sandwiches, chips, lemonade, and tea.
- As of Sep. 1, the gutting program had gutted 380 homes, a plurality of them in the Gentilly neighborhood. We’ve finished many more homes since then. There are nine other young folks devoted to it (I would have made ten): 8 interns (though some do more than just leading crews), one office person (who also leads crews), and Katie, who runs the whole show. They do a great job working with homeowners, scouting houses, and leading crews of short-term volunteers from all over.
- St. George’s Episcopal Church runs a free community café uptown on Thursday and Friday nights. They call it the Dragon Café, and it attracts homeless people, parishioners, and recovery volunteers. They usually get a jazz band or something to come in and play, and then have a service afterwards. I’ve been once; it was nice. Together with the Mobile Loaves and Fishes, St. George’s has served over 24,000 meals.
- The Church of the Annunciation, in the Broadmoore neighborhood, has secularized its sanctuary and now holds services in a trailer. The church has been converted into a large distribution center, with clothes, shoes, water, stoves, and Lord knows what else. It’s a wonderful operation, one that attracts its own volunteers and has done a world of good. Annunciation, along with the Cathedral and Holy Comforter, has served over 40,000 people.
- Perhaps the most important element of the Diocese of Louisiana’s hurricane response is the Jericho Road program. The Jericho Road builds low-income housing in the Central City area to help displaced families return to New Orleans.
- The national Katrina response program is called Darkness into Day. It's mostly a financial campaign that helps the Dioceses of Louisana and Mississippi rebuild churches and finance ministries until they can get back on their own two feet.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

City Three: This Time, it's Personal

I had intended to post tonight about the people we help in the lower ninth, in particular their gratitude, but a few more tidbits about the city's pace of recovery have occurred to me that I want to share.

-Good News: Voodoo Fest is coming back! Yeah, don't worry, I'd never heard of it either, but apparently it's a pretty big thing around here. It's an annual concert held in City Park each year, but last year's was canceled. This year's festivities will feature Duran Duran, Shooter Jennings (Waylon and Jessi's kid), and a host of famous bands I don't listen to (not that I listen to Duran Duran, either). On a similar note, the city's fairgrounds (horse racing track) are also reopening.

-Bad News: The AP reports today that white residents are three times more likely to get everything they need from their insurance companies than black residents.

-Bad News: There's no recycling around here. No curbside pickup, no bins at schools, nothing. It drives me nuts to throw away my newspapers and aluminum cans each day, but I have no choice. Fortunately, a regular volunteer of ours who lives in Baton Rouge takes all our cardboard boxes with her when she drives home, but that's small consolation for an ardent environmentalist like me. Brad Pitt is trying hard to convince people to rebuild green, but the environment just isn't a top priority around here. I can understand why, but quite frankly, global warming is one reason Katrina was so strong in the first place, and we should do everything we can across the country to fight it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

More on the City

There are a few points on the state of the city I forgot to make yesterday, so here's another post on the state of the city. I'd also like to say I hope to get some pictures up soon - I have a disposable camera I'll use next week and get developed, and then you can see some of this for yourself. So, more on the city:

- BAD NEWS: The New York Times and the New Orleans Times Picayune have both run recent front page stories on the fact that recovery is tough for renters. The Louisiana Recovery Authority has set aside $7.5 billion for homeowners in recovery money, and $859 million for landlords, but nothing for the actual renters - even though roughly half the city's pre-K population rented rather than owned. Things are only getting tougher, as post-storm rent has gone up 70%. Renters are tax-paying citizens, too: they are subject to sales and income taxes, and property taxes do affect the rent they pay.

- GOOD NEWS: The return of City Park is an interesting one. It's a large, pretty park in the middle of the city, and I'm told the crime there isn't terrible. I've driven past, but I've yet to actually walk around it. It's nice for a city park, but the city has largely ignored it's recovery. The golf courses there are uncut and unused, and many trees are still down. However, local residents, I'm told, have pulled out their own lawn mowers and tools to cut the sports fields so they can use them again. Hooray!

- BAD NEWS: If you talked to me after my trip down here in March, you probably heard me rant about the difference between FEMA trailers and "Katrina cottages". The trailers cost taxpayers $75,000 each to build and install, they're small and cramped (especially if you work from home), and they're terribly dangerous during storms. There is a better way: FEMA could buy cottages for about $60,000. These buildings can easily fit a family of four, they're safer than trailers during inclement weather, they can be expanded and remodeled, and you can build them almost as quickly as you can transport a trailer here. I can't see any advantage to the trailers. So why isn't FEMA building these cottages? Because its federal mandate says it can only build temporary structures, and the cottages are permanent. Congress needs to get on the ball and change that. It will save the taxpayers money AND benefit the citizens of Louisiana Mississippi.

- GOOD NEWS: Although many neighborhoods are still without electricity, as evidenced by the four-way stops that have replaced traffic lights in the lower ninth, New Orleans East, and St. Bernard Parish, power is still available. I learned the other day that many recovery groups and FEMA trailers are powered by temp polls the city sets up for them in front of their property.

- GOOD NEWS: While many other cost-of-living elements (like rent) have skyrocketed, gas is relatively cheap, as it always is in this part of the city. The average price seems to hover around $2.15, though I've seen it everywhere from $2.10 to $2.30. You can even get it for a mere $2.01 on the West Bank.

- BAD NEWS: The side streets, and even some of the main streets, are bumpy and flood easily, though I'm told this was a problem before the storm. I would imagine many of those massive potholes around the levee breach in the Ninth Ward are new. It would be nice for the Chevy if those were fixed. I do see crews working on ninth ward infrastructure fairly routinely, but I doubt they're focused on potholes. That's ok; there are bigger fish to fry- like rent control/assistance and FEMA trailers!!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Where Things are Today

The lower ninth ward was the most devastated neighborhood in New Orleans last fall. It remains that way, largely abandoned and in terrible shape, but things are improving. The levee breach area has been largely cleaned up, and crews are constantly working on infrastructure. When I visited in March, I couldn’t decide if it looked more like a war zone or a landfill. Vets who have been to Iraq and Bosnia say the levee breach was worse: rushing water smashed houses apart and washed them away, leaving nothing but the cement slabs. Debris was everywhere – cars piled six vehicles high; children’s’ shoes, old record collections, bicycles half-buried in the mud. Most of this has been cleared away, leaving a large field with the cement slabs and potholed roads. It’s hard for first-time visitors to see, but having been here six months ago, I am encouraged. It’s a large improvement – although if you live in the neighborhood, you might not see it that way. One man told me things aren’t getting better; all he’s got left of his house are the steps. Whether or not the yard is clean really doesn’t help him, I suppose.

One good sign is the increased traffic at our distribution site. We used to hand out around 200 bags of supplies from 10-2; the past couple weeks have seen us handing out around 250 bags and running out as early as 1. Today, we were actually out around 12:30, which shocked me! (Admittedly, we set up an hour early.) All in all, it’s a good thing: this means more people are returning to the neighborhood, and to the city, to work on their homes. This doesn’t surprise me; in March, many people told me they were waiting for hurricane season to end.

The news the Mayor likes to tout is the water: officially, the entire city of New Orleans now has running water, safe for consumption, and water pressure is at pre-storm levels. This is true as far as it goes, I suppose. The last neighborhood without water, a section of the lower ninth, had it turned on this month, but many of those residents tell us they still don’t have water, or roll their eyes and say sure, but it’s disgusting. You don’t see their comments in the news, do you? Either reporters don’t think to talk to them, or they’re largely ignored given everyone’s desire for a good story. My guess is that the city pipes are back up (albeit leaking horribly and wasting lots of water underground), but that local connections are still in bad shape. There’s water, and it’s fit for consumption by deer, but still tastes too awful for any human with dignity.

The rest of the city is pretty much the same as the ninth ward – devastated, but coming along, albeit slowly. The mayor has FINALLY established a central city office for recovery. I told you about the wonderful shot in the arm the Saints have provided. Restaurants are reopening in droves. Sadly, however, over half the city remains without electricity, an eerie site if you drive or fly by at night. A recent population study shows not too many more people have moved back in the last couple months. Many homes remain ungutted, whether in Orleans or St. Bernard Parish (county), even as the parishes start demolishing these untouched homes. Some people are still waiting on their FEMA trailers. I talked to one man yesterday who’s trying to rectify his situation out in Chalmette, but doesn’t understand all the FEMA paperwork he has to slog through (I pointed him towards Common Ground Relief, which helps with such things).

My friends Bob and Marty are coming down from St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho next month. My guess is that Bob, having seen Pass Christian, MS last year, will be excited by the progress, but that Marty, having not seen any of K’s destruction, will be horrified and saddened by overall conditions.

Ouch

I think I scratched the inside of my left eyelid yesterday. I can't wear my contacts, and blinking or closing my eyes to sleep can be uncomfortable. Hopefully it will heal in a couple days.

But on the flip side, I mailed off my absentee New Hampshire ballot today! It was kind of exciting, recieving and fill out my first ever candidate/November ballot (I voted for a school bond once). I voted John Lynch for Governor, Paul Hodes for Congress, Marc Blotner for Executive Council, Peter Burling for State Senate, and whoever that Republican is for Sheriff - he's the incumbent, and seems to have done a good job. Plus, his opponent has no website I can find, so must not want my vote that badly!

Then I took a two hour nap. Yay for sleep.

Learning from a Bishop

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Deacon Quinn. Since Quinn drives a Diocesan SUV, his own white ’98 Chevy Lumina sits unused, and he’s loaned it to me for the rest of my stay here! That’s so generous of him! Last week, I used the car (and occasionally the SUV) to give the visiting bishops’ wives tours of the lower ninth ward levee breach. They were lovely people, and I’m thrilled they were able to take their annual service trip here. Annie vonRosenberg, from Eastern Tennessee, was a particularly wonderful lady, with lots of energy! The Diocese of Eastern Tennessee includes Chattanooga, home of the moon pie, so she had a lot of fun giving out the moon pies we had at the mobile unit. I also enjoyed chatting with women from Southern Virginia, Idaho, Detroit, and other places I’m forgetting.

Bishop Bud Cederholm, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts, and his wife joined us today. He’ll be with another outfit tomorrow, and will come back after Thanksgiving to gut homes with the other bishops from Province One. He and I handed out water for most of the day. We chatted for a bit about climate change, New Orleans, and reconciliation in the church, when I realized we were having a dialogue. Not good! Usually, a 50-50 give-and-take conversation is great, but for Pete’s sake, I’m a 19 year old kid! This man’s a wise bishop! I should ask questions, shut up, listen, and internally digest! So I did, and it was very rewarding. As a preacher, Bishop Cederholm has always focused on the importance of God’s love – God loves us all, every one of us no matter what and no matter when, and sometimes we lose sight of that love. The bishop illustrated that point with a parable he called “Old Turtle,” about townspeople who forgot, but later remembered, to love one another equally, despite their divisions.

Bishop Cederholm said he’s realized in the past year or two that such reconciliation has always been a central part of his mission, something he hadn’t realized before. All too often, he said, people think of “reconciliation” as just another church word, theological jargon, another example of Episcop-ese. This is unfortunate, as reconciliation was a major part of Christ’s mission. And yet there are those in our church leadership who generally seem uninterested in any sort of reconciliation! Rather than focusing on theology, many are using the issue of homosexuality in the church to gain power – and using people is never a good thing. The bishop didn’t name names, but I will: Robert Duncan and Jack Iker. (Fortunately, not all conservatives are like that – huzzah for Louisiana’s Charles Jenkins, and others willing to talk to those who they disagree with!)

Bishop Cederholm also told me about his views on the homosexual issue itself (he supports Bishop Robinson, and told me how he talks to conservatives about it), the ordination process in his diocese and about Barbara Harris, the first female bishop, while I told him about New Orleans. From this conversation, I learned a thing or two that I’m sure will help me along my own discernment path, and I am very grateful to the Bishop.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Remind me again - who is the church?

A friend of mine from Idaho sent me this poem in response to my earlier post, "We are the Church." My friend, Bob, is the Outreach Coordinator for the Diocese of Spokane, and starts almost every meeting he attends with this prayer.

Prayer for Witness

We have been the church gathered.
We now become the church scattered.
Remember: Wherever you go, Christ goes.
Whatever you do, Christ does.
If someone asks you what the church is like tell them,"I am what the church is like."
If someone asks you what the church does, tell them,"My church does what I do."
Remember, you may well be the only authentic contact someone has with Jesus Christ because they will not come to church but you can bring the church to them.

(A benediction often used by the Rev. Dick Halverson, former chaplain to the U. S. Senate)

A Brief Word On Louisiana Politics

Good news: The Louisiana Democrats have refused to endorse U.S. Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) in his bid for a ninth term! If you've not heard of Rep. Jefferson, he's being investigated for bribery charges. He hasn't been indicted yet, but the Feds did find $100k he'd been paid stashed in his freezer. Now, as folks who know me can attest, I'm a staunch Democrat, but I can't stand idealogues or corrupt crooks, no matter what party they're from. I really hope Jefferson is kicked out off Congress, and this helps the odds of that. The state party has endorsed state Rep. Karen Carter instead. In Louisiana, the General Election and primary are the same thing, so both will appear on the ballot. If no candidate gets 51% of the vote, the top two advance to a run-off. With the state party backing Carter, it's doubtful Jefferson can reach 51%, so my hope is that Carter beats him and proceeds to a runoff with a Republican. It would be wonderful if the Dems took back the House, and even better if the most corrupt Congressmen were kicked out.

While I'm on the subject of Louisiana politics, let me say that if I were a Louisiana voter - which I'm not - I'd probably vote Republican for Governor in '07. And if I lived in Metairie, Slidell, or the North Shore, I'd probably vote Republican for Congress this year. First-term Congressman Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has done a heckuva job for Louisiana. When I asked Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) in a Dartmouth Free Press interview who the best Republicans to work with are, he immediately mentioned Jindal. When the 35-year old and former Rhodes Scholar Jindal ran for Governor in 2003 (he lost to Democrat Kathleen Blanco, 52-48, and is considered a leading candidate for the '07 race), he was endorsed by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a Democrat. He's been the most active member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation in helping residents deal with FEMA claims and other constituent services, often picking up the slack for other offices (Jefferson's office refers such FEMA problems to Jindal's). I disagree with Jindal on a number of issues - he received an unfortunate American Conservatives Union rating of 100 in 2005 - but many of those issues would matter less if he were a Governor. I won't say Blanco's done a terrible job, but Jindal is exactly the kind of person we need more of in American politics, especially in Louisiana.

You can read about Jindal's proposed revisions for FEMA here, or about his bio here and here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

"Those People"

The Bishop of Louisiana, Charles Jenkins, spoke at the Cathedral here on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last month. His remarks are posted on his blog; I recommend reading them.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Updates

Two quick updates and a theological rumination tonight. Update #1: I’ve started driving around the city. So far, I’ve been driving a green ‘98 Ford Explorer, donated to us by a church in DC, with Deacon Quinn in the passenger seat so I can get used to city roads. I’ve driven alone a time or two, as well, and Quinn is going to get me my own Diocesan ride, perhaps as early as tomorrow – so, I have wheels! Update #2: Each year, the bishops’ spouses go on a mission trip, and have chosen New Orleans for 2006. Some are gutting, and some, including the Bishop of Idaho’s wife, are with us in the lower ninth (no, Gloria isn’t here, sadly). I drove a couple of them around this afternoon. They’re very lovely people, lending credibility to that old adage that behind every strong man is a stronger woman.

I will keep my promise and post blogs soon about city conditions, the people I’m meeting, and maybe the warehouse, but tonight, I want to take a brief theological rabbit trail first. Please indulge me! :-P

We are the Church!

I’ve given a lot of thought lately to the phrase, “We are the church.” It’s not something that’s really ever jumped out at me before, but as we were driving across Texas last week, my birthdad asked me a few questions about my views on theology and the church. One of his questions was “Who is the church?” My reply just popped out:

“WE are the church!”

It is a phrase often heard in the Episcopal Church, one emphasizing our democratic nature. As most readers of this blog will know, congregations choose their own priests, and come together with other congregations to elect bishops. The Presiding Bishop is elected by the other bishops, and the real governing body of the church, General Convention, is made up of elected representatives. Given this bottom-up hierarchy, when you want something done, you mustn’t sit back and think, “Man, I wish the church would get in gear!,” and you needn’t worry about who to call to make it happen. You yourself can start a group at your parish, or introduce legislation at the next Diocesan Convention. Who is it that will weigh in on this legislation? Who will vote at the next parish annual meeting? Look around next Sunday morning – that’s who. WE are the church.

We are very fortunate to belong to such an inclusive body: few other churches operate under such a system. Most other Anglican churches don’t, the Orthodox Church doesn’t, and the Roman Catholics certainly don’t. Personally, I like it this way: God calls some of us to be clergy, some of us to be doctors, and others to be car mechanics. All of these are vital missions, equal to one another in worth – I sure can’t fix my engine when it breaks down, but I’m gonna need someone to do it! So, if we are all equal in importance and value, why should some have a louder say in the governance of the church than others? We are all God’s children, all subject to the same Gospel instructions, so let’s do it together, as a community.

This all came up in conversation with another volunteer in the Ninth the other day. She’s new to the Episcopal fold, having been raised Catholic. We were talking about the importance of a smile and a good attitude, and I mentioned that part of the importance is so that we may leave ninth ward residents with a good impression of the Episcopal Church. The volunteer said yes, that’s right, we are representatives of the church, aren’t we – but no, Deacon Dick and I replied, we are not representatives of the church, WE ARE the church. (She laughed, and said she’s still working on the Episcopal lingo.)

It’s a true statement. It might be a bit more obvious who they are when they have that big Episcopal shield looming behind them than when they are walking alone down the sidewalk, but everywhere a church member goes, the church goes. The church is not sitting on some distant throne, appointing people to go forth and represent her in the ninth while she watches from afar. No, the church itself is getting up from that throne and walking over to the ninth to hand out staples. The church itself is rolling up its sleeves, getting its hands dirty, and gutting homes. When you see that RV or those wheelbarrows, they are not tools sent by the church; they are the actual church in action. It’s an important mission: we are, I am, the Episcopal Church in the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, ordained by God to feed his sheep.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Diocesan Mobile Unit

As you may remember, I’m no longer gutting homes, at least not on a regular basis. I am instead working on the Diocesan mobile unit in the lower ninth ward. Every Monday through Thursday, and occasional Saturdays, we drive a huge RV to an abandoned Walgreen’s parking lot, set up a tent, and hand out free water, snacks, toilet paper, paper towels, masks, Bibles (when we have them), and bleach. This ministry was started in December and is run by Deacons Quinn and Mike, who do a great job.

The process is pretty basic – locals walk up to our tables to get their supplies. We start them off with a bag with a roll of paper towels and two rolls of toilet paper. They walk down our two tables and we drop snacks into their bags: Vienna sausage OR instant soup, peanut butter crackers, a Nutri-Grain bar, chips, maybe a Moon Pie or some other sweet. Then we give you a couple bottles of cold water (my hands just about froze off today, reaching in to that cold cooler ice water again and again!). Some days we have more snacks than others – it all depends on what’s donated when. My birthdad, Kerry, donated 20 boxes of fruit cups, and we went through most of it yesterday. A couple from Kansas brought novels, laundry soap, and toothbrushes. The toothbrushes went quickly yesterday, the laundry soap was a huge hit today, and the books seemed to go over well – we’ll give out the bulk of them tomorrow.

The bleach distribution is a little more complex; we don’t just give it out willy-nilly like the snacks and paper goods. The Diocese used to, but the powers that be said no more bleach: it’s costing us too much money and isn’t that effective against mold anyway. Deacon Quinn said now hold on a minute; it is a popular item, people do appreciate it, so rather than cutting it out entirely let’s just be more careful about it. So, under the current system, the first time you ask for you bleach, we won’t give you any, but we’ll look at your ID (if you have ID) and put your name on a list. If you come back, we’ll know you’re serious, and we’ll give you bleach. People can have one can a week.

My role in all this is evolving. As I help more and more, my knowledge will be helpful – Deacon Quinn won’t have to constantly teach new week-long volunteers how to set up the tent and tables or run the bleach book. I can do it myself, or I can show the volunteers how. I also help Deacon Mike, manual-labor style, at the warehouse where we store supplies.

Our ministry is an important one. Quinn says we’re there more to help people with their spiritual needs than anything else – so a willingness to listen, to give hugs, and to smile are all very important. Today, he talked to a woman who needed help getting to her next payday, but wasn’t even asking for a cash loan – food would be something. In the ninth ward, we are the church. And indeed, people are very grateful, even if all they want is two bottles of water. The smiles and thank-yous we always get are quite genuine, even from the tough guys! I’ll tell you about some of these people (as well as about our warehouse and the state of the city) in my next couple posts. This past has gone on long enough. Allow me to finish by saying it’s a blessing to witness the fruits of your labor: at a time when more churches are leaving the Ninth Ward than are opening, the Church of the Annunciation, a local Episcopal church, has managed to start a missionary church in the ninth, the Church of All Souls. This is in part thanks to the seeds Quinn’s ministry has sewn. Isn’t it wonderful to see the Lord working through His people?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I'm Back!

Update 03-04-07: Info Removed

As you can tell, I haven't posted in over a week. I've been on vacation from the Diocese - I thought I would make a post or two while on the road about some of the people I've met here in New Orleans, but hey, when you're on vacation from work, you're on vacation from all aspects of it, including blogging!

But I'm back now. It was a good, refreshing week, and my health is substantially improved, so I think these next few weeks should be good ones. (Personal Info Removed) The week topped off yesterday morning at Camp Allen, my old home away from home, where Dena Harrison, my old priest, was ordained as a bishop. It was a beautiful ceremony, and I saw a number of folks I've missed from St. James TX, including some family friends and Father Bill, an old role model.

So, as I say, it was a good week. And as I proceed with my ministry here in New Orleans, I promise you, I'll have some actual, substantive blog posts about the city and its people! This week! I promise!