Episcopal Communicators from across the country traveled to New Orleans in mid-September to be part of the on-going efforts to rebuild the city.
The group, which timed its visit to coincide with the House of Bishops meeting, included 20 church journalists in dioceses and parishes from Hawaii to Miami to Vermont. The effort was hosted by Ann Ball, who spent 26 years as the communications professional for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana before the hurricane destroyed enough of her work infrastructure that she gave up writing to become a case manager assisting people trying to return to their homes.
Plans for the trip were inspired by Ball's description -- during the annual Episcopal Communicators conference in April -- of the great need in her beloved New Orleans. When a request for volunteers was circulated, responses poured in.
Mississippi diocesan communicator Lauren Auttonberry also addressed the conference and inspired participants to visit and assist rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast.
Patrice Schnexnayder, a parish communicator from Austin, Texas, said she came "because I wanted to see New Orleans, not on TV but in real life." Sharon Rasmussen, communication director for the Diocese of East Tennessee, said, "I have been editing other people's stories of New Orleans for two years, and this was an opportunity to see it for myself and be part of the recovery."
Volunteers spent two days rebuilding homes for the diocese's Office of Disaster Response programs to assist those unable to finance the rehabilitation of their homes. Work crews put up ceilings in one house and sanded drywall and primed walls in another. The work was hot, sweaty and messy but left participants revitalized, knowing they had played a small role in helping someone reclaim a normal life.
Participants also fit in time to exercise their ministry of communications during the four-day trip. They attended the service dedicating the city's convention center, which featured Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Louisiana Bishop Charles Jenkins. A dozen people, still covered in construction dust, participated in a news conference that included Williams, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Jenkins, Mississippi Bishop Duncan Gray, and New York Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam. Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, spent an evening answering questions from the group.
Vans took participants to work sites September 22 across New Orleans and Mississippi, where they interviewed and took pictures of bishops and spouses doing their own hands-on mission work. Communicators took special pride in seeing progress made on the houses where they had worked just days before.
The trip also helped communicators see the breadth of the city's needs. They spent time at St. Anna's Church, which has a special ministry to the city's musicians, and at St. George's Dragon CafÃ©, where anyone in the city can get a free meal two nights a week. They also were part of the dedication of Church of All Souls, an Episcopal parish in the lower Ninth Ward started by the diocese after Katrina in response to the needs of that community.
Nan Ross, director of communications for the Diocese of Atlanta, said she appreciated the chance to help in New Orleans with this group of colleagues. "I love Episcopal Communicators, and working with them is a joy," she said. Marjorie George, communications officer for the Diocese of West Texas, recalled remarks made by Williams at the convention center dedication. "He said as human beings we owe each other our gratitude," she said. "That was a wonderful lesson for this trip."