In a part of New Orleans that is still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, a new sign of hope has appeared.
In the midst of the Lower Ninth Ward, the Diocese of Louisiana and the Church of the Annunciation in New Orleans have launched a mission station named the Church of All Souls to minister to the many working class families who are trying to return to their homes -- where some have lived for generations.
Located downriver from the Industrial Canal, the lower Ninth Ward received between four to 20 feet of floodwater following Katrina.
The Rev. Shola Falodun, an Anglican priest from Nigeria who moved to the United States to be a missionary to African Anglicans, began assisting with the relief work in the diocese immediately after the hurricane. He helped deliver supplies through the diocesan Mobile Ministry Respite Unit, a recreational vehicle that carried necessary items to the lower Ninth Ward on a regular basis.
During that time, Falodun met the rector of the Church of the Annunciation, the Rev. Jerry Kramer, who was also carrying out a relief ministry in the Broadmoor area of the city where his church is located on South Claiborne Avenue. The two priests tended to the people's many material and spiritual needs during the early months following the storm, and have continued providing goods and services.
Through this daily contact in the Ninth Ward, Falodun knew that it was the place to which God was leading him to begin a congregation. He approached the diocese with the prospect of planting a church and received the diocese's blessing. The congregation is named the Church of All Souls and holds services on North Rampart Street just around the corner from where the Mobile Unit parks each day. Falodun chose the name to honor the new souls who will be coming to worship and those souls who were lost in Katrina's waters.
Kramer mentors Falodun's new ministry at All Souls under the supervision of the Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson, Canon to the Ordinary. The ministry is supported by the Bishop's Annual Mission Appeal. The diocesan Executive Board and Standing Committee are excited and supportive of the church's presence in the lower Ninth. The members of the Church of the Annunciation support the mission station through prayer, program funding and volunteer work.
The church is temporarily housed in the garage of parishioner James Lemann. Few homes are occupied on the street. The isolation does not dampen the spirit of the fledgling community.
The Church of All Souls welcomed its first diocesan visitors from the bishop's office on September 13 at its 6 p.m. service. Stevenson brought his official greetings from Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana. Stevenson was accompanied by the bishop's three-member communication team. The diocesan visitors joined the All Souls' congregation in fellowship for the barbecue dinner, prepared by Leila Green, which preceded the service.
The worship began with guitar music by Lynn Magnuson and solos offered by members of the congregation. Falodun walked through the congregation gathered on the sidewalk "blessing" them with sprays of mosquito repellant as the waning daylight brought out the uninvited insects.
A broad smile crossed Falodun's face as he welcomed the worshippers to the service and declared that "God will never fail us!" He swept his hand above the yard to take in all the items the church had at its disposal: tables, chairs, barbecue pits, food and beverages, microphones, speakers, audio-visual equipment, musical instruments, even the use of a "sno-ball" truck which makes shaved-ice treats.
"Look how much we have here after only two months," he said. "All we need to start this church is already here."
He reminded them that the reason they were here was "to be together in prayer." Falodun urged them to continue to pray for a building for them to use as a house of worship. He called on members of the congregation to share their testimonies or songs.
Falodun's sisters sang a praise song.
Lemann offered "thanks to God that we are here today."
"I love to see everyone come together," he added.
Green said, "When I bless ya'll with hot food, God blesses me."
Stevenson shared his own reflection on the occasion, likening it to one of his favorite Scripture passages -- when Mary discovered from the angel that she was to give birth to the Savior.
"She knew something powerful was coming into the world," Stevenson said. "Here we are at the start of a new and powerful beginning. My soul blesses the Lord with you here tonight."
Jerome Richardson closed the service with "Amazing Grace" as members of the congregation joined in the singing.
The congregation stayed long after the food was put away to enjoy music and fellowship together on the long desolate corridor of North Rampart Street, made bright that night by the presence of the Holy Spirit-filled members of All Souls.
Services are held every Sunday at 11 a.m. with a potluck lunch afterwards. On Wednesday there is dinner at 6 p.m. followed by praise worship and Bible study.