The survivors of Katrina with their valiant spirit are not unlike others who have served in combat in other critical, traumatic places, Bishop George Packard said in a diocese-wide Eucharist and vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Lakeview, New Orleans, on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Located not far from the now-infamous 17th Street Canal, St. Paul’s has made a remarkable comeback in its first year of rehabilitation following the ravages of the storm and flooding.
Packard, the suffragan bishop for chaplaincies in the office of Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, participated in many anniversary observances along the Gulf Coast. “A great city wiped clean of its culture ... 640,000 homes destroyed ... This is a place that can joke down a storm – but not this time,” Packard said. “Remembrance is profound in New Orleans.” Packard stilled the congregation with his own remembrances.
“But there are so many people rooting and praying for you this night,” Packard said. “This land is truly gifted ... it is a spotlight moment.” “Jesus says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will have everlasting life," Packard continued. “You will not be overcome. You will not be assailed ... For God loves us and delights in us.”
And he recalled fire chaplain Charles Bryant, who said, “Liturgy is what you do when you don’t know what to say.”
Aug. 28 was a typical south Mississippi day. It was hot and humid -- not the perfect day to be working in the sun. Yet that is exactly what the Rev. Elizabeth Wheatley, rector of the destroyed Christ Episcopal Church in Bay St. Louis, did. Along with her fiancé, Butch Jones, she spent the morning working with other local volunteers on one of ten Kaboom! playgrounds damaged by Katrina along the Gulf Coast.
“I told my congregations yesterday that, as we approach the anniversary, how valuable it is, both emotionally and spiritually, to be involved with a project that has an end, that has some closure to it,” said Wheatley. “I encouraged each of them to do this within a bigger context, something outside just themselves.”
To the west, at Camp Coast Care in Long Beach, Miss., final preparations were underway to give away the first of the Camp Coast Care Cabins. These one- and two-bedroom homes are being fabricated on the campus and will be moved onto homeowner’s lots to replace houses destroyed by Katrina. The project enables families to move back into homes and out of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers.
Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi blessed and dedicated the first of the homes Aug. 29 for an elderly couple, Mary and Thomas Robinson of Pass Christian, Miss. “In our faith tradition, we often use water to bless things,” said Gray before beginning the familiar liturgy over water. “It is significant that we are using water today to bring new life to your house, since it was water that took the old one away.”
“We’ve turned a corner,” said Dorothy Byrd, a longtime member of Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, Miss., after an Aug. 29 commemorative service. “We struggled for a year, and we have been looking inward for a year, and now we are ready to move outward.”
“Today as we look back, we must also look forward,” said the Rev. Edward O’Connor in his homily to the congregation of St. Peter’s by the Sea, Gulfport, Miss., one of six coastal churches destroyed by Katrina. “For this day offers an unprecedented opportunity to recast, to re-envision a community of justice and compassion ... a life where we can, with confidence and in peace, proclaim and shout -- and I’m going to need your help here – ‘Alleluia! Christ is Risen!’”
“The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!”