The six-day gathering of Episcopal Church bishops that begins Sept. 20 in New Orleans will bring a relatively small number of people – about 350 – to the city, but Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana says the impact is huge for the hurricane-ravaged area.
“First of all, it’s a boost to our economy to have anyone here. Even this number will be a help. The city is excited about this,” he said in an interview from his office in Baton Rouge, La.
Two years after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 per cent of the Crescent City, the business district and tourist magnet French Quarter are generally back to normal. Still, officials say they are battling the image of a devastated city and expect convention business this year will be 70 per cent of pre-Katrina levels. Outside the central city and the areas on higher ground that did not flood, many neighborhoods are still struggling to recover and Episcopal churches and clergy who lost their homes are trying to rebuild.
Bishop Jenkins also said that it was welcome news that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will meet with the American bishops for two days and preach at a large ecumenical service on Sept. 20 at the Morial Convention Center. “The city needs and welcomes an international religious leader,” Bishop Jenkins said, noting that the city also marked the visit last year of the Ecumenical Orthodox patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople.
After the bishops meet with Archbishop Williams on Sept. 20 and 21, they and their spouses will on the weekend fan out in Louisiana and parts of neighboring Mississippi, helping with rebuilding projects and leading prayer and pastoral visits with congregations and individuals. Their meeting then continues Sept. 24 and 25. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is asking dioceses to consider $10,000 contributions to a fund for the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississipi, which would aid specific mission priorities.
The two dioceses have benefited from “the work of Episcopal Relief and Development (the church’s New York-based disaster relief and economic development fund) and the support of Episcopalians across the world,” said Bishop Jenkins, enumerating his diocese’s relief efforts.
Among these initiatives is a mobile medical unit that makes daily rounds in neighbourhoods, a mobile ministry unit that carries “food, supplies, clothing and prayer,” a cafe that has fed thousands, an information and resettlement centre and help with gutting and rebuilding houses.
During the bishops’ meeting, several churches are holding special events. St. Anna’s will host a healing service and concert to mark its two-year “mission to musicians,” which has provided employment to hundreds of local musicians and services such as free medical screening and legal aid. Grace Episcopal will host “Ruin to Renewal: a Creole Evensong” with jazz and gospel music to commemorate the spiritual and physical renewal of churches in New Orleans. The Church of All Souls, a new church located in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward that includes a community centre and day care, will host a block party.
The National Council of Churches, Bishop Jenkins noted, estimates that 1.1 million volunteers have, to date, helped out in Louisiana and Mississippi.
In a June letter to his episcopal colleagues, Bishop Jenkins noted that the Gulf coast has “become a place of pilgrimage.” Many, he wrote, “who journey here and to the Mississippi Coast on mission trips find their lives changed and return home with a deeper and more lively sense of God present and active in their lives. A person comes seeking God, often with a certain notion of where and how God shall be found. A pilgrim is often a person surprised.”