I'd like to tell you a little bit about what it was like to be part of that group of 15 who lived together in the parish house of St. Andrews Church in New Orleans the first week in February.
We were a pretty mixed group. Some of us knew each other pretty well, but there were a couple of brave souls who had barely met the rest of the group when they signed up. Few had been to New Orleans before, and none since the hurricane. You may remember that we weren't sure what we would find once we got there, or exactly what we were going to do each day. We had some real doubts about our capabilities, and most of all we wondered: what could we possibly do to help in the face of so much need?
It was a mixture of very different personalities, ages, and interests. But there wasn't anything particularly special about us. We were---and I'm really speaking for myself here---hopeful, but fallible and vulnerable: ordinary human beings.
By the end of the week in New Orleans, that motley crew, floundering and well out of their comfort zone, had come together and forged an extraordinary and powerful bond. I saw something wonderful happen: we were supporting each other in love. Because we were enabling each other, we had the strength
to go out and do much more than we ever imagined we could. And it was all through small acts of kindness.
Someone went to the store late at night after a long day of physical labor to buy bread so we could all make sandwiches for lunch the next day. Someone cleaned a bathtub the group before us had left dirty. We lent each other clothes, aspirin, shampoo—whatever was needed. When I was tired, someone carried my suitcase. I am an early riser, so I was among the first in the kitchen each morning. Someone had always filled the coffee maker the night before and left a note: “Plug In Coffee!” Can you imagine how wonderful that felt? Some figured out how to get around the city and some drove the vans and some swept the floor and some chopped onions for dinner. It was my favorite piece of scripture in action, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
When you stop to think about it, what we did for the people of New Orleans in our short week there were just small acts of kindness. It wasn’t a lot. In the words of George Stevens, the Assistant Rector at St. John’s Church in Beverly Farms, one of our early mentors, “You aren’t going down there to change the world.” We just tried to show some loving support to let people know they weren’t forgotten.
There are some other important acts of kindness—some small and some not so small---that I want to mention. I am referring of course to the loving support of this parish that enabled us to make the trip. Every pair of socks you bought, every donation you made, the t-shirts and the beignet mixes and the trips to the airport, every encouraging word you gave us, helped us to come together as a group and to stay focused and inspired because we knew you were with us. We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you.
That’s what it’s all about: small acts of kindness that are paid forward. I won’t forget the coffee pot ready to be plugged in or the suitcase taken out of my hand without my even asking. Hopefully some of the children whose library we renovated won’t forget and will do something like that for someone else some day. Each of us doing something for someone else with the gifts that God gave us. With all due respect to George Stevens, maybe that really is how you change the world.