In New Orleans, St. Anna's procession marches to a different tune this Palm Sunday

March 12, 2008

Millions of Christians around the world will mark this Sunday as Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem in the days preceding his trial and execution by crucifixion.

In Episcopal churches across the United States, adults and children will carry home palm leaves, or small palm crosses, as a reminder of the event described in all four gospels when Jesus entered the city, riding on a colt and "the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way." (Matthew 21:8. ASV).

At many churches, members with their palms will walk in procession around the building before entering it for the service. The congregation of St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans will celebrate this date according to its own custom.

As a New Orleans tradition bearer and post-Katrina host to the "Mission to Musicians," the little stone church on the grand avenue of the Creoles will "second line" in a Palm Sunday tribute. Leading the way will be one the city's most famous brass bands, the Storyville Stompers.

"Traditionally, a 'second line' follows a funeral as dancers and revelers follow brass bands from a cemetery," said the Rev. William Terry, St. Anna's priest. "So, St. Anna's uses that language. We play jazz as we walk from the church into the French Quarter, then proceed through another old neighborhood called Marigny, then back to the church via the Treme."

The procession, led by the priest and the Storyville Stompers, will wind through old neighborhoods and city streets. The brass band was the first band to play at St. Anna's Mission to Musicians, a collaborative effort that offers resources and care to musicians and residents alike. Started two years ago, in the first six months it served 1,390 dinners (musicians and artists eat free) and gained employment for 124 working musicians through grants and donations. It has three components: a mental health and wellness clinic in collaboration with Tulane Medical School and Daughters of Charity, a Rite II worship service with anointing and healing, and a community supper, concert, and jam session.

Since Katrina, the band members have played at other Episcopal churches, such as Emmanuel Church in Newport, Rhode Island, and St. Mark's Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, always spreading the word about the New Orleans recovery efforts since the hurricane did its damage, flooding much of the city. Last year they played for Episcopal bishops who met for a week in New Orleans and participated in a work day by rehabilitating damaged houses.

The little church of St. Anna's has also garnered national attention with its "Murder Board" listing the names of all persons in the city who have been murdered since Katrina. In addition, the Diocese of Louisiana and St. Anna's continue to provide free medical care, including mental health practitioners, to the underinsured and uninsured during the city's continuing medical crisis.

Terry, who notes that the church was named 'Innovator of the Year' in 2007, says parishioners also work hard to keep cultural traditions alive, including its partnership with the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and providing a venue for them to play. "As we say, all are welcomed -- none are shunned," he said.