Hurricane relief partnerships blossom between congregations, dioceses

November 18, 2005

Editor's Note: This text replaces the article previously released under this headline on November 17, 2005. Photo's have also been added.

Formal partnerships are already underway between parishes across the country and those along the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast under the Episcopal Church's new "We Will Stand With You" (WSWY) program.

About 10 partnerships have been made through WSWY. Another 10 partnerships formalize relationships that already existed, according to Susan Blayer, WSWY partnership coordinator. Those partnerships move WSWY into the second phase of a four-phase program.

St. Paul's Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee has partnered with St. Paul's Church in New Orleans in the first partnership of the program.

The second partnership pairs Church of the Good Shepherd in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee with Grace Episcopal Church, also in New Orleans. Both Tennessee parishes are part of the Diocese of East Tennessee.

St. Paul's, the third-oldest congregation in the Diocese of Louisiana, is in the Lakewood neighborhood, near Lake Pontchartrain. Its church, a pre-kindergarten through 8th grade school, and the rectory suffered massive flood damage when a levee holding back the lake collapsed after Hurricane Katrina.

Four feet of water poured into Grace Church on Canal Street during the flooding. Grace's rector, the Reverend Walter J. Baer, held an All Saints Sunday Eucharist outside the church on November 6. The service included a procession through the neighborhood.

Since October 23, Graces has been combining the parish's four Sunday services (Rite I, Rite II, a Spanish service and an African-Anglican service) into one service. Parishioners "just love to see each other" and are coping with the combination of worship styles, Baer said.

Those who used to attend the eight and 10 o'clock services are moving to the beat of the Spanish service musical team that now plays for the combined liturgy. And, Baer said, those parishioners for whom English is not their first language are putting up with his "Anglo sermons."

Baer left New Orleans before Katrina with 12 parishioners who had no way to leave the city. They organized a three-car caravan to Monroe in northern Louisiana. He and his parishioners had to wait for nearly three weeks before they were allowed to return to the church.

When they could get to the church, they found muck and mold in the building and its contents strewn everywhere.

"We're doing the work of cleaning the church and preparing it for the work that God has prepared for us," he said.

Baer said Grace feels called now to preserve its historic building with its notable murals and stained glass windows, as well as helping parishioners and the neighborhood recover.

The members of Grace are "raising God's praises" in their neighborhood and, as decisions are made on community rebuilding efforts, advocating for those people "who have little control over their destiny," he said.

While the members of St. Paul's in Chattanooga had been involved in a variety of hurricane relief efforts from the beginning, the parish felt a need to focus its work, according to a recent parish newsletter article by the Rev. H. Hunter Huckabay, Jr.

Huckabay, St. Paul's rector, told parishioners that the vestry hopes to form a similar partnership with a parish in Mississippi.

"By focusing our relief efforts on these two parish churches, we believe that we can be more effective in assisting in their recovery. While the partnering relationship has not been specifically defined, our intention is to offer to them what we can to meet their needs. This is a long range commitment, because the recovery period will be lengthy," he wrote.

WSWY grew out of efforts that began immediately after Hurricane Katrina to provide just that kind of focus and to assess the needs of those hit by the storms and coordinate ways of meeting those needs. The program is being run by the Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies.

The work began with simply fielding all the offers of help. Dioceses on the Gulf Coast initially felt overwhelmed with the offers of assistance. The dioceses and parishes were operating in a "chaos-trauma mode of just trying to survive one day to the next," Blayer said.

"There was a lot of impatience" on the part of some people and organizations as their offers of help were met with requests that they put those offers on hold, she said.

Gulf Coast dioceses had to ask that people put their desires to help "in the bank" while the dioceses and parishes assessed what they needed next. WSWY worked "to slow down the rest of the country," Blayer said.

The offers of help were heartfelt and welcomed, she said, but people's need to help had to be paced to other people's ability to accept the help.

Many of the offers of help came from congregations and dioceses that already had relationships with their counterparts on the Gulf Coast. Those offers needed to be augmented with deliberate coordination so that all areas receive aid and not just those with such previous relationships.

The need to ensure even distribution and to "capture the partnerships that were already in existence" formed the first phase of WSWY's four-phase program. That phase has involved assessing specific needs and taking inventory of the resources being offered to meet the needs.

This phase also allows the staff in the Chaplaincies office to get an accurate inventory of all the work that is being done, Blayer said.

The second phase, which WSWY is in now, involves matching those in need with those who can help. The actual work of those matches constitutes WSWY's third phase. Evaluation every 10 days and improvement is the last phase.

The Rt. Rev. George Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies, called for partnerships that are enduring and relational. "Offers of help must be sustained over the long haul," the program's website (www.ecusa-chaplain.org/wswy_portal.html#wswy. notes.

Packard also envisions WSWY to be centered in Christ and grounded in prayer. St. Paul's in Chattanooga is doing just that. "At every Eucharist, we will pray for our partner parish, St. Paul's, New Orleans, and her Rector, George Walker. This means a great deal to them, and I urge you to remember them in your private prayers," Huckabay wrote in his article.

Blayer said there are still more partnerships to be formed. Such partnerships require large commitments of resources and time and so. She said WSWY encourages dioceses to consider partnering with a single parish. "A collaborative effort on a large scale is preferable," she said.

Such large-scale partnerships allow parishes with differing resources to get involved in the effort in ways they couldn't on their own, Blayer said.

* Information about WSWY, including all forms needed to offer or to seek help, is at www.ecusa-chaplain.org/wswy_portal.html#wswy.

* A DVD describing the WSWY program with a word from Bishop George Packard will be available soon for use at diocesan conventions and other meetings.