Resilience and relationships remain 10 years after Hurricane Katrina


Written by Anthony Moujaes

Ripping through the region, Hurricane Katrina made landfall that day in Southeast Louisiana, and swept away houses and cars while floodwaters lingered for weeks from Texas to Florida. One of the most deadly hurricanes in United States history, and the most destructive, Katrina claimed 1,833 lives and caused about $108 billion in total property damage, while displacing hundreds of thousands of people. (…)

Thanks to more than $6.1 million in gifts for hurricane response, an amount that the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss labeled a “huge outpouring”, the church remained engaged in the recovery effort, aiding the Gulf Coast through the end of 2011 — past its commitment of five years. (..)

Through UCC missions, more than 6,750 people volunteered for the recovery effort in New Orleans alone, working a total of 170,000 hours to clean out almost 850 houses and rebuild 110 homes. (…)

“There was a difference between the effects of Katrina on New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast,” she said. (…) “In a lot of ways, it was two different disasters from the same storm.”

In fact, about 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded, largely because the levees throughout the city failed, but about 90 percent of the entire Gulf Coast flooded, with water reaching inland as far as 12 miles.

“We were able to participate closely in the recovery of both areas, alongside Back Bay Mission in the Gulf Coast, and in New Orleans, where we helped set up some recovery work there,” Blaufuss said. “We had volunteer groups in both places.”

Back Bay Mission, a UCC ministry in Biloxi, Miss., serves the poor and marginalized in the Gulf Coast, primarily through home rehabilitation and a day center for homeless people that opened in 2009.

“Back Bay Mission had community relationships and transitioned easily into housing recovery,” Blaufuss said. “But in New Orleans, we had to build those relationships from scratch. Thankfully, were able to involve our local churches — they hosted weekly meals for volunteer groups — and it was wonderful hospitality and a time for local congregants to tell their stories of survival.”

In Mississippi, before Back Bay Mission could begin assisting the relief and recovery effort, it had to assess the destruction to its own campus, with seven of eight buildings destroyed and un-usable. (…)

About 7,500 volunteers worked 240,000 hours, cleaning up both the campus and more than 150 homes in the five years after the storm. It provided Back Bay with a new focus, shaping a ministry to launch affordable housing initiatives to meet the needs of the community. (..)

A decade later after Katrina, what are the lessons learned from the aftermath of the storm? Said Blaufuss, “It reinforced our commitment to local communities in helping them decide how they should recover, and listening to local voices so the outsiders can best assist in the recovery. It reminded us of the importance of relationships.”

Where two or three gather in my name

Jesus promised to be with us when two or three gather. And boy, do we need his presence. Being a UCC congregation is not easy. You might as well say “where two or three gather you will have about five very high-profile opinions.” On Sunday, August 23rd, the Rev. Daniel Haas and Tommy Gaskamp will share their current experiences at events in the Wider Church. In June the South Central Conference had their Annual Meeting in New Orleans and General Synod was later that month in Cleveland, Ohio.

Here is a glimpse into how things can go, when our extended church family gathers, written by Micki Carter:

The Rev. John C. Dorhauer was elected general minister and president of the United Church of Christ with 89 percent of the vote during General Synod 2015 Monday, June 29 at the Cleveland Convention Center — but not without voices of dissent. Frustration with a nomination process that brought yet another straight white male candidate for leadership of the church spilled over on the plenary floor during the vote.

As soon as the debate on Dorhauer opened, the first speaker set the tone. The Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational UCC, Washington, D.C., charged that the nomination speeches for Dorhauer were “the most misjudged and misguided I’ve ever heard. (…) I don’t need a white male to advance me. I have my own worth — without the need of someone with white privilege to give me value.”

The Rev. Anna Humble, an association minister in the South Central Conference, added, “I cannot, I will not, I do not believe there is not one among us a woman who is qualified to lead this denomination. What face are we projecting to the world about who we are?”

The Rev. Alice Hunt, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, then took the floor. “I served as one of eight women on the search committee. (…) Our committee was tasked to find the very best person to serve as the next General Minister and President for our beloved United Church of Christ. The call for applications was not a call for all women who sensed a call to this important work. The call was for applications from all persons who sensed a call. We received applications from a diverse and interesting pool of applicants. We followed a predesigned and transparent process following our credo, which we had agreed upon in advance. Just because our committee selected a straight white man does not mean our work was sexist or racist or hetero-normative. The eight women on this committee have spent a lifetime overcoming institutional male privilege. We fully support the nomination of John C. Dorhauer.”

The testiness of the delegates reached a point where one asked the current leader of the church, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, to offer a prayer to bring the discussion back to a spiritual footing. He reminded the assembly, “We are on holy ground, in sacred space.”

After the result of the balloting was announced, Dorhauer and his wife, Mimi, were invited onto the stage to receive the applause of the delegates. As they walked through the hall, receiving handshakes and hugs, he stopped long enough to evaluate all that had transpired that afternoon.

“I am grateful to be part of the United Church of Christ where voices of dissent are heard — with love and compassion — and where all voices are welcome!”

One Ministry in Two Uniforms

two uniforms

For my ministry I have two different uniforms: My Prussian robe is my Sunday best that connects me to the deep and rich roots of our tradition. One weekend per month I change after church to put on my uniform as a United States Army Reserve Chaplain. It may look like two separate ministries that are at odds every now and then. In reality though it is one ministry, endorsed by one body. The United Church of Christ connects me with my congregation and endorses me for military chaplaincy. Serving in two worlds comes with a unique set of challenges and benefits:

It is challenging for me: Last year I had to miss my wife’s and our middle daughter’s birthday. Besides the monthly drill, reservists also have annual training during the summer which lasts from two to three weeks. This year I missed our big family trip to Germany because of it. It is a big commitment that cuts substantially into family time.

It is challenging for the congregation: Some things can be scheduled well in advance like finding supply preachers to fill the pulpit while I am gone. But then there are pastoral needs when people need a visit and they know it is not going to happen. Or when someone dies and the memorial has to be conducted by another supply preacher.

It is beneficial for me: Serving in the military besides full-time church ministry keeps me on my toes. It makes me more efficient in my planning and I welcome the change of pace that comes with serving in different settings. It makes me a better pastor since serving both uniforms offers unique experiences that you cannot get anywhere else.

It is beneficial for the church: My congregation views its support of my military ministry as a service to our service members. They take pride in the fact that they allow me to be there for our Soldiers in need. The large veteran population in our church finds it easier to open up about the time when they served and oftentimes I see men in their 80s revisit their Korean war demons for the first time. When budget time comes the board members are appreciative of the fact that the Army provides me with continuing education and a comprehensive benefit package which equals added benefits for the church.

Serving both as a local church pastor and an Army Reserve Chaplain is something God calls me to do and by entering a covenant with me the church has agreed to make it their call as well. In return they get a well-balanced pastor.

Hiroshima Prayer Of Remembrance

On the occasion of the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, local churches are encouraged to pray and offer witness for peace in the world and the elimination of all stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Another world is possible. It must be possible. A world void of nuclear weapons with their devastating and long lasting affects on the peoples of this world, and on the earth.

A Prayer of Remembrance:

O God, tender and just,
the names of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
cut through our denial
that we are capable of destroying the earth
and all that dwell therein.
Forgive us –
and help us to always remember.
We must remember because this must never happen again.
We must remember because you would have us live
in harmony with each other,
seeing the joy of your creation in our
sisters and brothers.
Holy God, God of all the ages,
lead us from death to life,
to the stockpiling of hope, and of possibilities,
and of love
rather than the stockpiling of weapons, or stones to throw,
or of hate.
We pray for the healing of the earth and of its peoples,
especially for our sisters and brothers
upon whom a nuclear rain poured down.
Help us to imagine that another world is possible
and guide our actions towards the peace
you envision, the peace you have already given us.
In the name of the One who came so that we might have life,
and have it abundantly, we pray.

Written by Rev. Loey Powell