Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sheila Monks' Homily 2/26/12

I was just amazed when I looked at the readings for this morning. Here we are talking about New Orleans and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the first reading is Noah and the Flood. I shouldn't have been surprised, of course. There is always a special synchronicity at work with God, always a special message for us to hear---but still, I was amazed.

Let's for a moment imagine the plight of Noah. A terrible storm, bringing endless rain, has obliterated everything of the world he once knew. He is adrift in a strange, rickety structure. He has that sick, lonely feeling of someone who has lost everything. He feels helpless and hopeless. At last, after endless days lost at sea, as it were, he "sent forth a dove out of the ark, and the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly picked olive leaf, so Noah knew the waters had subsided from the earth".

The comparison here between Noah and New Orleans and the people there is almost unbelievable: a great storm bears down upon them and everything they have known is washed away. They are left, if they have anything at all, with strange, fragile storm-wrecked buildings that have almost nothing in common with the cozy homes they once knew. They have the sick, lonely feeling of people who have lost everything. They feel helpless and hopeless.

This year, as you know, some of us worked at the New Orleans Mission for the Homeless. We noticed that on one wall was painted a quote from Isaiah: "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint". And then we went to church on Sunday and what was one of the readings that morning? The same quote from Isaiah. And we sang "On Eagle's Wings".

Now think of the dove. That great symbol of the Holy Spirit at work, its sturdy wings able to lift its body over the fearful waters. For untold centuries it has been the symbol of hope, as it searches and searches for a place to land, and finding an olive tree at last, brings back in its mouth hope and redemption for Noah and his frightened little band. Noah's trust in the Lord has been rewarded.

And what about the people of New Orleans? I like to think that perhaps the symbol of hope for them is another winged creature, not the dove but the eagle. If you want to see helpless and hopeless, come to the Mission for the Homeless. But on its wall is painted a picture of an eagle. And think about the hymn we sang: "You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, Who abide in his shadow for life, Say to the Lord, my refuge, My rock in whom I trust! And he will lift you up on eagle's wings, Bear you on the breath of dawn, Make you to shine like the sun, And hold you in the palm of his hand".

I like to think of them this way, flying like powerful eagles far above the furious waters, heading straight up to heaven.

I would like to end with a beautiful prayer which I found in a book called "Redeemer's Grace", something we read for the St. Michael's Book Group:

"Oh God, I offer the prayers of my heart
For those who are suffering. I don't know their names.
You know their names, and their sufferings are real to you.
Let them become real to me. Let me know how to be with them.
If they must suffer, may they know they are not alone.
May they be clothed with love, fed with love, warmed and protected by love.
May they be held in your hands and blessed in your love.
May the dead find their places in memory, may the wounded be healed,
May the mourners be comforted. May the morning come when all may arise with joy.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


The PNOLA group really felt great about all the work we were able to complete at Lola and April's house. The family room floor is installed and the trim board applied. We also demolished a water soaked closet and finished an amazing amount of painting and plastering in other rooms in the house. Things are looking very promising for the family to be able to return home. April was very grateful and, while shy, really came around by the end of our week. She presented us all with a Mardi Gras cup and beads to bring home to Boston with us. We wished her well and hope to visit her in her finished home with all her family on another trip to NOLA.

All of us were struck by the fact that the neighborhood we were working in was still so affected by Katrina. Some houses on the street were looking cared for, but others were clearly unoccupied and many had been torn down. Amazingly this neighborhood is only 3 blocks from the beautiful Garden District and prosperous St Charles Street. This is truly a divided city with most of the neighborhoods looking neglected and forgotten. We all felt blessed to have been able to help Lola and April. Thank you all for helping us bring St. Michael's loving community to New Orleans.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prayers for New Orleans

I am so struck with the spirit of the people of New Orleans - their kindness, hospitality, and welcoming of us. Everyone thanks us for coming (and you all for sending us) and for not forgetting them after so many years. At the New Orleans Mission all the guests said "thank you m'am" and "God bless y'all". Mildred gave us all hugs for painting the ironwork around her house. John and Betty stood wistfully at the door (she in her wheelchair) waving goodbye after we cleaned up their yard. Amanda opened up her home for us to use her bathroom while we were working in the Bayou Rebirth gardens and then came to say goodbye. Mother Susan of St. Andrew's, Rev. Jim at St. George's, and Father Bill at St. Anna's all welcomed and thanked us.

I am also struck by people's openness for us to pray for them - the countless murder victims, their families, and their prepatators. Dave from the Mission's babies who were kidnapped. Corey at the Mission who is lost and confused. Amanda who worries about 8 year old girls who know already what rape is. Bev who lost not only her son but her beloved dog. Joe and Gloria who are still working on their house. Please keep them and all the people of this glorious city in your prayers.

The Rain Garden

Thursday Today many of us went to work for Bayou Rebirth. We weeded, organized their tool shed, and prepared to create a rain garden. A rain garden is a rain water catchnment area which can be built in a back yard to prevent rain water from going into storm drains and becoming polluted when it hits the streets. The garden is actually a shallow hole in the ground filled with permeable soil such as crushed rock or sand and planted with attractive plants, usually native, such as iris and marsh grasses. Storm water flows into the garden and although it eventually sinks, is held there for a while, preventing erosion and pollution. If enough rain gardens could be built in New Orleans back yards, flooding could be vastly improved. It would also be a huge energy saving, as 40% of the energy used during a rain storm is for pumping the water out of the city!
It was hard, physical work, followed by cleaning up the huge brush pile left from pruning a large tree. We're tired tonight, but true to form, Barb and Marilyn have cooked a huge dinner and we are expecting Bev Jimenez and Joe and Gloria Robert, whose homes we worked on in other years. --Sheila

BTW, Barb

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My thoughts and prayers are with you!

It so great to follow you all as you continue this wonderful tradition of service. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Where are you staying this year?

I hope this posts correctly - the blog seems to want to recognize me as a contributor not a responder. (I guess I should be honored.)

Keep well, keep posting, and send pictures!

my love to you all,

Anne Aylward Spofford

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Day At The Homeless Mission

Yesterday some of us worked at the New Orleans Mission for Homeless. We made po'boy sandwiches for the guests for lunch (we would call them hoagies), served lunch, and sorted and stored an enormous delivery of baked goods from a grocery store. What we actually did wasn't the important thing, though. What was important were the stories we heard from the staff about how they had originally arrived at the Mission, down and out,and how their lives had been turned around. What was important were the thank yous the clients gave me when I handed them a cup of iced tea. What was important was the gentleness of the chef when he sat and talked with us after lunch. What was important was the sense that between these walls there was, at long last, some hope.
There are estimated to be 19,000 homeless people in New Orleans.

From the PNOLA Group

Phoenix of New Orleans (PNOLA) is an organization dispersing volunteers to homes that have been funded for now mostly finish work type projects. Such projects would be finish coats of paint on walls, hanging kitchen cabinets, installing flooring, to name a few. Our group of five (Martha Cotton, Lorraine Dee, Joan Faulkner, Rick Lindequist, and George Thomas) will work this entire week on a home in the Center City area owned by two sisters, April and Lola Turner. It is actually a family home, built as a double wide "shotgun", but now connected as one home. This is a typical New Orleans style. The home is only blocks from the untouched Garden District area. All of the homes in the entire Center City area were flooded and rendered uninhabitable. Some of the homes in their neighborhood are now fully renovated and occupied, but many are still boarded up even after 6-1/2 years. Others were demolished and now vacant lots appear thruout the neighborhood. It is true urban blight. For the first two days we have done mainly finish interior painting, as well as scraping and sanding some of the exterior of the house which badly needs a new paint job. We are also going to be assisting our supervisor, Gil, an Americorps employee who is from Monterey, CA area in installing a laminate floor in what is to be a family room area. We hope that our work will help the sisters and their extended family fully return to their home before the summer.

Written by the PNOLA Crew

Greetings from NOLA!

Greetings from New Orleans! We arrived safely on Sat to temperatures in the 70's and thunderstorms. It turned out that we weren't the only ones coming to St. Andrew's - the Bishop of LA arrived Sunday morning for confirmation and baptism so we decided to pass up the 10 am service after all. Part of the group went to the 8 am service and the rest of us went to church at St. George's where we enjoyed a moving sermon, gorgeous stained glass windows and Southern hospitality - the rector identified us immediately as "East Coast Episcopalians!"

Sunday afternoon we enjoyed some free time in the city. Most of the group went to the World War II Museum which they highly recommended,others took a trip down the Missippi in the Riverboat, and others walked down by the river.

Then off to work on Monday! Four of us made Po'Boy sandwiches at the New Orleans Mission where we served lunch to the homeless. Others volunteered with Beacon of Hope where we helped an older couple finish up painting the outside of their home and cleaned up their yard. Today was beautiful weather wise so we really enjoyed the opportunity to be outside all day.

We've also enjoyed being together as a group, having Compline every night and eating delicious home cooked meals!

Thank you to y'all who have supported us both by your prayers and financially. Everyone here is so touched that our parish sent us down here to help. There is still so much to do.