St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Lakeview, New Orleans, served as the site for an August 28 diocesan-wide 7 p.m. Eucharist and vigil of 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.
Five bishops, clergy from all over the diocese, St. Paul's choir and servers processed into the nave as daylight gave way to evening. Louisiana's Canon Chad Jones led the chanting of the Great Litany in procession.
The Rt. Rev. George Packard, the Episcopal Church's Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies, who preached for the service, traveled to Louisiana to take part in the many anniversary observances along the Gulf Coast. Bishop Duncan Gray III of Mississippi and Suffragan Bishop Nedi Rivera of Olympia attended the service in support of the diocese. Louisiana's Ninth Bishop James Brown and Tenth Bishop Charles Jenkins, celebrant, were present also.
Packard's sermon took the intricacies of pain from the early days of Katrina and posited them into the helping hands and hearts of the present and into the arms of God.
"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 ... The last time I was here [at St. Paul's] I couldn't even describe the chaos ... The storm claimed things. 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."
Packard identified with the Katrina survivors, saying their valiant spirit was not unlike those who served in combat in other critical traumatic places. The service, which was intended as a memorial to those who have died and an embrace for healing, used the lectionary from the Burial Office. Packard emphasized a quote from Julian of Norwich which said "God did not promise you will not be assailed. But God promised you will not be overcome."
Most noteworthy in his remarks was a response to a recollection he had of fire chaplain Charles Bryant, who said "liturgy is what you do when you don’t know what to say."
Following Packard's sermon, Jenkins welcomed the visiting bishops. "Bishop Packard has been a steady friend and presence among us. Bishop Gray has always been a friend and companion. When I needed someone to lean on, he has been there for me. And we welcome Bishop Rivera, who has a special relationship with St. Paul's."
The bishop asked the congregation, "How many of you were on I-10 a year ago yesterday?" referring to those who exited the city by car, both east and west. "We remember the good hospitality we received in Baton Rouge for the evacuation."
At the Eucharist, Jenkins said, "Let us remember those who have died and their families and those who have no one."
St. Paul's organist and choirmaster, Dr. Jerry F. Davidson, composed an anthem for the diocesan Katrina observance using Dietrich Bonhoeffer's hymn text, By Gracious Powers [full text below].
At the close of the service, Jenkins presented acolyte pins to the four young men who served as acolytes at the commemorative Eucharist and acknowledged their work during a difficult year.
By Gracious Powers
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented, still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation, for which, O Lord you taught us to prepare.
And when this cup you give is filled to brimming with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
Yet when again in this same world you give us the joy we had, the brightness of your Sun,
We shall remember all the days we lived through, and our whole life shall then be yours alone.