Monday, February 28, 2011

Judy Rice's Homily 2/27/11

Jesus’ admonition to “not worry about your life” always speaks to me each time I hear it for I am a worrier. In my role as trip leader for the last two Mission Trips there has certainly been much to worry about – who is going, what will we be doing, how will we get there, how much will it cost, where will we stay, what will we eat. These are details I don’t take lightly for it is not only my own experience that rides on everything coming together but also the experience of the entire group and indirectly the people of New Orleans who we are going to help. Although I try to “strive for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and know deep down in my heart that “all these things will be given to you”, there have been many times over the past two years when everything seems to be going wrong and I can hear Jesus chiding “you of little faith”. Although I pray daily to be preserved “from faithless fears and worldly anxieties”, it is still hard for me not to worry.

But seriously, when have I ever had to worry about if I was going to have enough to eat or warm clothes to wear or somewhere to sleep? I think of the people at the New Orleans Mission for the homeless where a few of us volunteered one day. The most moving part of that experience for me was standing outside waiting to be picked up. The three of us huddled together with the homeless men milling around, the smell of urine and vomit overwhelming, the rain beginning, people lying on the sidewalk under blankets. Although homelessness is an issue in every major city the homeless population in New Orleans has tripled since Katrina while at the same time funding has dropped.

I also think of Joe and Gloria whose home we worked in for several days, still displaced 5 ½ years after Katrina. Gloria, who lost her job and tries to keep up her social work ties in a home office where all her belongings were thrown in every which way until we helped organize it. Joe, who tries to split his time between his contracting business and supervising the volunteers who come to help him fix up his own home. I think of the concerns they have about the toxic sheet rock that covers part of their house and will now have to be removed. I think of them running out of money for insulation until we came and were able to purchase the needed materials. I think of them not worrying about their own lives but instead providing us lunch of jambalaya and red beans and rice, their way of being people of faith and knowing that God is truly taking care of them.

I think of the list of weekly murder victims we heard read both at St. Andrew’s and at St. Anna’s churches where we worshipped, mostly young men in their late teens and early twenties. I imagine what it must be like to be a mother of a young man that age in New Orleans, to worry about whether my son’s name will be read aloud next week. I think of the people who are tired of worrying both about their own situation and those of their neighbors, who just want life to return to what it was before Katrina when the lives of the entire city were disrupted, who want to forget.

But I also think of the people of St. Michael’s who won’t forget, who take the words of Isaiah seriously “for the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his suffering ones. Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands”. St. Michael’s, you have inscribed the people of New Orleans on your hands through your love and support and they thank you. Let us pray.

Oh God, when I have food help me to remember the hungry,
When I have work, help me to remember the jobless,
When I have a warm home, help me to remember the homeless,
When I am without pain, help me to remember those who suffer.
And remembering, help me to destroy my complacency and bestir my compassion.
Make me concerned enough to help, by word and deed, those who cry out for what we take for granted. Amen.

John Duff's Homily 2/27/11

I was fortunate enough to make my second mission trip to New Orleans. This time I worked in a home that has been unoccupied since Hurricane Katrina. That’s almost 5 ½ years ago! My co-workers during the week were Lorraine Dee, John Ahonen and George Thomas. We were led by our young crew chief David, a 23 years old from the mid-west. I was impressed once again by the leadership and commitment of the young volunteers that have worked for a year or more on this rebuild project.

During the week we installed window sills, molding and kitchen cabinets as well as painted walls and ceilings. As the week went on and we got more accomplished, I felt excited and so greatful to be part of this group of people- including the whole St. Michael’s family that sent us-which was helping to get Miss Johnson back into her home after such a long time. When we left this home it was just a few weeks away from completion. She could be in there now!

Even though I saw some of the devastation that Katrina did to this city and its neighborhoods, I cannot feel inside what Miss Johnson and the other people of New Orleans have felt.

Can you imagine? Living in your home one day, and the next day everything you own is gone! You don’t know where to go, where to turn or if and when you will be back.
It is a frightening thought. Miss Johnson has been living in Atlanta since the hurricane. Her daughter stopped by the house while we were there and she could not stop thanking us for our help.

We did not need to be thanked. We were sent there to assist and comfort the people in need. I feel I was serving God and we all were serving God in our actions there.

The readings today talk about wealth. I feel richer having gone on this mission trip. I gained the wealth of the Holy Spirit in my soul.

If we help feed the hungry and the homeless you are wealthy where it counts, in God’s eyes. And that’s what really matters.

Sheila Monks' Homily 2/27/11

This morning I'm going to tell you about a conversation we all had in New Orleans. It has everything to do with today's Scripture readings, and after the service I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter, how you reconcile
it all in your minds and your hearts....
Here in Milton, we are quite protected. Almost all of us live in a bubble of safety, where we don't have to relate too closely to the desperately disadvantaged. True, some of us volunteer at the Food Pantry or the Monday Lunch Program, or even consider prison ministry, but that's for a few hours and then we are home again.
Then there's New Orleans, where the poor, the homeless, the permanently jobless, the mentally ill, are right in your face. You aren't going to get away . Even when you meet those who seem comfortably off, you are aware of the pain in their eyes. They have experienced a trauma they can't forget.
Most of you have heard that our group stayed in a large, very attractive parish hall belonging to St. Andrews Episcopal Church. It is in a very "nice" section of town. We had only been there a short while when we heard a knock on the door, and when we opened it, we found a couple on the doorstep asking for money. One of our group gave them some of their own money, and they went away.
The incident sparked an immediate debate. We all sat down together and talked. We were guests in someone else's place, after all. Perhaps it was not their custom to give money to people at the door. Maybe if we did that, there would be a never-ending stream of people coming to the parish hall asking for money. Maybe some of them weren't legitimate. Maybe they would spend the money on drugs and alcohol. Anyway, none of us could afford to just give and give and give to the poor. If we did that, we would soon be one of them ourselves! ---But wait a minute! what did Jesus tell us to do? Wasn't he always talking about giving to the needy, even to the point of having nothing left? Look at today's Gospel, one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament: "Jesus said, you cannot serve God and wealth. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear". Aren't we mandated to give as much as we can---and then some--to someone in need?
This is of course one of the great Christian dilemmas. And in New Orleans we didn't come to any real decision at all. The rector of St. Andrews, Mother Susan, met with us and asked us not to give money to anyone at the door, but to offer food instead. My own inclination? I would give the money. But the problem is, I just can't be what Jesus asks me to be. I worry about my bank account and my food and my clothing. I worry about my health and my security. I just can't give it all away. I am serving two masters. I like to be comfortable. A lot.
Meanwhile, the need in New Orleans goes on. The only way I can I can even begin to address the dilemma in my mind is to keep thinking about it. It's certainly beyond us, in our human frailty, to make everything better. Even the beautiful, magical bayous are suffering on a gigantic scale, so that the marsh plants you all so generously paid for and we repotted, help, but aren't enough. But we have to do something. We have to try in our small way. That's about all we can do. That's about all I can think to do. And what would Jesus do? I think he would tell us never to stop trying.=

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Hollygrove Neighborhood

Surrounding the Bayou Rebirth site is an area of extreme poverty and much damage from Katrina. This area is one of the lowest lying areas in the city and was compromised before Katrina. Most of the houses you see in these photos are examples of the inablity of the residents to return. The atmosphere is one of desolation.

However ,we did see some glimmers of hope - the Saints' banner is a brave attempt to make life feel normal again and the pink house is actually restored to its former charm.
A final note, this area has been without sewage disposal since Katrina. We were able to talk to a private contractor, who with a team, was restoring services to the neighborhood. The Lower Ninth Ward gets alot of attention in regards to the "wrongs" of Katrina but the Hollygrove neighborhood suffered almost the same level of destruction without the media or Brad Pitt's attention

On Our Last Night...

Our week of labor is over but the need is still strong. We have left an impact on a city that needs lots of help. We are glad that we have made a difference. We were here doing God's work and we are satisfied.

God bless - John Duff

Meeting with Pete & Dinner with Beverly

Sheila, Julia and Mary with Beverly

Mary and Beverly
Last night we meet with Pete Nunnelly, the volunteer coordinator (among many other things!), for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. This gave us an opportunity to learn about the current "state of the city" and to ask him many questions.

We talked about the barriers and complexity that homeowners have in getting back into their homes. City, State and Federal regulations and the "strings attached" to grants and funding continue to keep many away from coming home. We talked about the high demand for volunteers like us to come to New Orleans and provide countless hours of light labor that includes - painting, sheet rocking, insulation installing, etc. This is fundamental to getting people back in their homes.

Pete mentioned that the funding channels are getting more difficult to find. In this economy, government funding is rare and many private sources are drying up. Please know that your support went (in part) directly to providing supplies to the families we worked with. When Joe and Gloria ran out of insulation, it was your support that purchased the addition bundles they needed to complete the project.

We were able to talk with Pete about the Gulf oil spill and he simply said, "The oil spill was just bad." We discussed at length the how's and why's of the oil spill and the politics around it. Basically jobs were lost, lives were put on-hold and now Louisiana is fighting a major image problem. One way we can help is to advocate for Louisiana's seafood. It is the freshest and safest known - thanks to the watchful eye of the FDA.

In addition, we talked about our Ministry of Presence, which is our ability to be present for people as they share their stories and to be totally in their listening. This week we have heard many people's stories. One in particular comes to mind - Earlier this week, we all listened to a man weep openly as he shared in detail his experience of Katrina and what he witnessed post Katrina. His beloved city was destroyed and he has been mourning its loss. It was powerful and insightful for us to be reminded that even those who did not loose their homes are suffering too.

At this point in the discussion, our dinner guest, Beverly, arrived. Last year we painted the exterior of Beverly's Gentilly home. In an earlier blog posting, Jean described Beverly as a gracious, hopeful woman - which is so true! Like Joe and Gloria, we all fell in love with Beverly and her dog, Sweetie, immediately. I have prayed for Beverly daily and it was pure joy to be with her again!

Beverly shared with us news about her family and her neighborhood - All of whom are well! She has a big family with many generations and with it she said, "There is always a little bit of drama!" Her neighborhood is almost completly rebuilt with the final house in her block that was recently demolished and is under reconstruction.

In addition, she shared with us that since we saw her last, she was called out of retirement to support the backlog of social work cases pending in Loiusiana. She asked that we all pray for one of her clients. "Mary" is a young grandmother who is caring for her murdered daughter's young children. Please pray that "Mary" and the children can stay together as a family and thrive and prosper for many days, months and years to come.

Beverly thanks God every day for the work we did for her and for all who brought us to her. She is thankful to be back in her house and able to serve others. Please know that your supporting our work in New Orleans has and will continue to help many.

With blessings and love to you all - MARY

Bayou Rebirth

For two days we worked for the non-profit Bayou Rebirth . The Bayou Rebirth mission is to restore the bayou and to educate the citizens of Louisiana about the importance of the bayou. Bayous are disappearing at an alarming rate of an acre per day.
The group propagates plants native to the bayou that will replace plants that have been destroyed. Many of you made this work possible through your purchaes of virtual plants bushes and trees. This week we planted the real thing!
Our assignment in the Hollygrove neighborhood was to create a model flood mitigation pond. With alot of effort, we dug a 10'x30'x3' hole that we learned was the former foundation of a house. We learned it the hard way by unearthing countless bricks and cement blocks - some which were blue!
We then filled the pond with various native grasses and decorated the outline of the pond with bricks. The plants will grow in the pool and will fill with rainwater run off. The roots of the grasses will act as sponges to absorb the water and keep it from flooding the surronding area.
The goal of this project is to demonstrate that flood water mitigation can be obtained through natural means rather than pumps and pipes. Our leader, Andrew, shared with us that 60% of New Orlean's carbon emmissions currently comes from the water pump system.

Bayou Rebirth

Thoughts from Jean

Red Beans and Rice on Monday. Yeah! Southern Fried Chicken like none I have ever tasted along with Jambalaya with Andouille Sausage and hamhocks. Red beans and rice the best! Until you have Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce. Gloria and Joe's hospitality speaks volumes of the indomitable spirit of these people.

Another experience of this spirit and hospitality was our welcome at Marian and Robert's gracious Garden District home. Their King Cake was the best!

My best experience was meeting Miss Beverly. She epitomizes to me the spirit and hope of the New Orleans people. I cry now even as I think of her.

My New Orleans and St. Michael's friends remind me once again of a special prayer:

Let me be hurt
But not be broken or destroyed
Allow me to be bruised, but
Not my spirit to be overcome
I know of suffering and
I do not fear it.
I only fear my strength to carry it.
I ask not to escape from the doubts
And the pain; I only ask that I might
Carry them with GRACE; with HOPE;
With LOVE.

The Kin-dom of God aka NOLA

I'm not sure what the exact connection is, but as we got busy working at Joe and Gloria's house this past Monday--a song popped into my head and heart and it has remained throughout this experience: "Seek ye first the kingdom (Kin-dom, as we are all kin) of God and its righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you; Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened unto you-Allelu-Allelulia." But...the truth is...for as many folks who have asked for help here in New Orleans, there are at least five more (here and elsewhere around the globe) that desperately NEED help...and it seems to be somewhat slow in coming? This trip faithfully reminds me, every single day, that care, compassion and empathy happen one moment at a time, one day at a time, one house at a time, one person at a time and one shovelful of dirt at a time. Allelu=Allelulia. respectfully and humbly submitted-The Rev. Karen Maleri

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On Wednesday a group of us went to visit the Lower Ninth Ward. Sadly this neighborhood has become the poster child of what went wrong in New Orleans post-Katrina. There are many groups who have worked hard to move this neighborhood forward and to get those who were displaced back into their homes. The following are just two of many......
Make It Right ( is the non-profit Brad Pitt formed to rebuild 250 sustainable homes in the Lower Ninth Ward. To date, 50 homes have been completed. The group was thrilled to see the progress in this project. Last year there were only a handful of homes completed.
Common Ground Relief ( is another non-profit that has made great improvements in helping the citizens of New Orleans rebuild their lives.
Despite all of the progress we did see in the Lower Ninth Ward, there are blocks and block of empty lots where houses once stood. The work needs and will continue until New Orleans is back.

One group (9 of the 13 0f us) arrives on Monday to Joe and Gloria's house. They have added onto the back of the house and are living in the front section of the house. The front section had been renovated soon after Katrina and only recently did they learn that the sheetrock used in the renovation is toxic. As soon as the back of the house is competed, they will need to gut the front of the house and renovate it for a second time. They opened their hearts to us by sharing their Katrina stories with us and we fell in love with them immediately.
Barb, Judy, Julia, Sheila, Mary, Lana, Randy, Jean, Karen & Rick outside Joe and Gloria's home. The 9 of us from St. Michael's along with Randy from the St. Paul's Homecoming Center, and a group of 6 people from Minnesota were given the task of installing sheetrock, insulation and vapor barriers in the back end of the house.
The Lowes delivery truck was unable to deliver the 130 pieces of 12' sheetrock as close to the house as Joe had hoped. All 16 of us quickly stepped into action to move 70 pieces to the second floor via the second floor deck. Joe built some staging that helped us hoist the sheetrock up to the second floor. The remaining pieces were moved into the first story Kitchen/Family Roon through the back porch sliding door.
Phew! We got all of the sheetrock into the house, Now it's time to get down to work!
Barb cranking the sheetrock installer. Boy, did that save our arms!
Karen and Rick teamed up to install vapor barriers on all of the outside walls.
Barb and Judy during one of many supply trips to Lowes. We were on a first name basis with the cashier there by the end of our first day at Joe & Gloria's house.
The insulation installing started with Julia, sheila and Judy in the Pantry and continued with....
Judy in the Laundry Room....
Julia in the Master Bedroom....
and Barb in the Master Bedroom too.
Sheila, Jean and Lana helped to make Gloria and Joe's living room liveable by organizing their closet and personal items.
Gloria volunteers on many community service groups including her neighborhood association. Here Jean is in the midst of organizing all of Gloria's community paperwork in the small area of the house that Joe and Gloria currently live in.
Randy, volunteer coordinator from St. Paul's Homecoming Center, and Mary building a closet for Gloria.
Julia, Gloria, Lana & Barb on a brief break from installing insulation.
Mary, Julia & Rick with Joe & Gloria - a wonderful couple who are going to be back in their home soon!

Wednesday in New Orleans

Today Sheila, Jean and I decided to take a break from insulating (although we missed being with our homeowners Joe and Gloria) to explore life at the New Orleans Mission, a shelter for the homeless in the downtown area. Although it was a tad intimidating walking in, we were warmly welcomed and put right to work sorting clothes. At lunchtime we had a chance to meet some of the other volunteers, guests and staff and learn about the many services offered - shelter for up to 300 on a cold night, meals, clothing, a recovery Bible study three times a day, and work programs. We were very inspired by the people there and hope to support the mission both by volunteering there again as well as financially. Leaving we were dismayed to see the many homeless who were lying on the sidewalk on blankets and sleeping bags and the disparity between the mission and the luxurious homes we passed in the Garden district on our way back to Chalstrom House.

Tonight we all went to St. Anna's for worship where we were further challenged by the Gospel regarding the issue of giving to the poor (great preaching down here!) We all left feeling that we were meant to have been there. The rector thanked us (and you) for coming and not forgetting them after so many years. We had first thought of going to Cafe du Monde but since it was pouring rain (better than snow!) we decided to pass. I wonder how the homeless are doing outside tonight....

Update from Your Team in New Orleans

On Sunday Sheila and Mary overheard the following conversation on Bourbon Street:

Guy: "Dawn, do you pray?"
Dawn, who is no more than 17 and with dead eyes, said, "No, never."
Guy: "You don't pray? Don't you ever talk to God?"
Dawn, shook her head NO.

Update from the rebuild team--- from John Ahonen
Great progress has been made on the house we're working on in East New Orleans. George and John D concentrated on putting in kitchen cabinets while Lorraine and John A painted two rooms with a final coat of paint. In addition to our work, we got to hear David (our supervisor) play the ukelele while we ate our lunch (EDITOR'S NOTE: They sang Happy Birthday to John A - 57 today!). We can see a major difference in the house from when we started on Monday. Lots of caulking, small carpentry work such as window sills and molding, and painting has been done.

Update from Rick Lindequist
A group of us drove over to view the Lower 9th Ward before going to our daily assignment. I am a new member of this mission, and have never been to New Orleans. The majority of the others in the car this morning have been on this mission either once or both times before, and they shared much of what they had learned about this area, and commented, thankfully, on positive changes they had seen since their prior visit. For me, it was an unreal picture of devastation even 5 years out! I am still dumb founded. Thankfully, members had seen definite progress, particularly in the Brad Pitt backed sustainable construction project of new homes.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This is Julia McIntosh sending you greetings for Nola. Being here is certainly an eye opener regarding the devastion from Katrina. The citizens need a great deal of help and I am happy to be here to lend a hand. We are having a grand time putting up sheet rock and insulating walls for a great couple name Joe and Gloria who are very thankful and greatful for our help. Will tell your more another day. Bye; bye.

Hi this is Sheila and Mary - Here is a bit more about Joe and Gloria. Katrina hit New Orleans a week after they were married. The house that they had just completely renovated and furnished to start their new life together was located near one of the levee breaks. The house was filled with nine feet of water and they lost everything. Rather than spending the end of August and early September '05 on their honeymoon, they spent it with Joe's parents in a Houston hotel room.

The house we are helping them with is Gloria's Mom's house; it is located in Gentilly. Gloria's Mom is in an elderly housing unit in Texas, loves it and plans to stay there. During Katrina, Gloria's sister was staying at the Mom's house along with her two dogs. As the water began to rise, one of the dogs, a black lab, swam happily around the house. While the other dog, a chihuahua, got very nervous. The water got several feet high and rose as high as her chin. After witnessing other dogs swimming by the house and fighting the current, she saw a boy clinging to a stop sign. The boy was unable to swim and she doesn't know what happened to him.

She was eventually rescued by the National Guard who broke into the house. At first the National Guard would only take her if she would leave the dogs. This was unacceptable to her and only when the dogs were part of the rescue party, did she agree to leave. She was taken to the Superdome but she refused to go in. She spent many nights living outdoors with the black lab "on guard" at her side and the chihuahua picking fights with all of the pit bulls! The only way she could get the dogs and herself safely out of New Orleans was to play the part of a blind woman with her guide dog, black lab, and her pet dog, chihuahua. We hope to meet Gloria's sister tomorrow (and her two dogs too)!

When Gloria and Joe were able to return to Gloria's Mom's home, it was in ruins. They renovated it only to learn that the sheetrock they had used was toxic and has to be removed. (Toxic sheetrock is wide spread throughout New Orleans.)

This is where we come in. Together Gloria and Joe along with Gloria's Mom and their extended family have pooled their resources to renovate (again) and expand the house. Right now it is just a shell. They are living in it with all of their belongings in piles, in closets and in crawl spaces. We (9 of us along with 6 people from Minneapolis) are working together to get them back into their house as quickly as possible. In the past two days we have become expert insulation installers and sheetrock hangers. (We'll be available for hire soon!)

In addition, we have listened to them tell their stories, cried with them and prayed with them.

To All Of Our Friends, Greetings from New Orleans.

Thank you all for this opportunity to reach out and help our brothers and sisters here in New Orleans. It's been 5 1/2 years after Katrina and progress is being made but the signs of this devasting disaster are still very present. The need continues.

The group is split up and working at 2 houses. I am working with George, John A. and Lorraine. We are at a home that is about a month from completion. It is owned by an elderly woman who has been in Atlanta, Georgia since Katrina. We are installing window sills, moulding and painting. It is exciting to think about how this woman will feel when she gets back to her home.

God blesses us every day. Thank you all for helping us share our blessings and gifts with our brothers and sisters here in New Orleans - John Duff.

Monday, February 7, 2011

We're Here!

We arrived safely Sat evening in New Orleans and were thrilled to see palm trees, green grass, blooming flowers, and best of all NO SNOW! After renting cars and picking up sleeping bags and pillows, we settled in at Chalstrom House, the parish hall of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. Sunday morning we attended church next door where we were warmly welcomed by all. Lana, Barb, and I enjoyed the choir singing the Tallis piece "If ye love me" which we have sung so often as members of St. Michael's choir. Mary noted that St. Andrew's was taking up a collection to restore their organ so we all chipped in to add to their fund. After church we enjoyed the fellowship of coffee hour and several of us partook in an informal sermon group where we discussed the rector's theme of radical hospitalitiy. This was put into real life experience when some of the homeless of New Orleans came to our door and we had to figure out exactly how to put the Gospel into practice. Sunday afternoon was a beautiful day - sunny around 60 (are you all jealous???) so we took the streetcar downtown to walk around the French Quarter and see the sights of which there are many! Internet access at the parish hall was not available which is why we were unable to update the blog before now. Off to bed for all so we can start our first day of work bright and early Monday morning.