Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Come get dirty in New Orleans this April

The Diocese of Olympia invites you to join a missionary trip to New Orleans April 14-22, 2007. Only six spots left! Be a member of a Diocese of Olympia medical and construction team to assist in the reconstruction of New Orleans.

Participants will stay at the St. Paul’s Homecoming Center, New Orleans, which can house 25 volunteers and includes a full kitchen. The construction team will meet daily at a central location and will be divided into work crews. Each crew will be under the direction of a local crew chief. The medical team (R.N.,M.D.,APRN) will be part of the St. Anna’s Mobile Medical Mission and will provide basic medical examinations and care.

Cost per person: self-arranged air fare ($300+ as of date of this post), food needed for meals (approx. $100) and rental vehicles and gas for ground transportation ($75). Lodging is free but a donation will be appreciated.

If interested, please contact the Rev. Peter Kalunian for a registration form. The team will be limited to the first 25 people who apply. For more information, call 206-854-0612 or e-mail Fr. Peter More information is available at, click on “volunteer resources.”

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The church seems to be a home for hope

Fr. Will Hood greets Carl Knirk at St. Paul's

Sunday, January 28, 20007

St. Paul’s, Lakeview, New Orleans, 10 a.m. worship service

I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity to see St. Paul’s in person for the first time and to worshiping with our partner congregation in the We Will Stand With You campaign.

I’m greeted by Matt Wallo, who with his wife Melanie came to Seattle in October and spoke at our diocesan convention, sharing their story of escape, return, and efforts to rebuild their Lakeview home, which was destroyed by floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Matt also is the acolyte master for St. Paul's. Today, he shared that the family finally have a foundation on their house and are ready to start framing if they could just get some decent weather. Saturday, the day before, was an awful, rainy, foggy day; Melanie said she spent the day on the couch. Today, Sunday, is beautiful, cold, but with clear, blue skies.

We walk into the sanctuary, it’s about 9:35, and Will Hood is testing the new sound system, wearing his microphone. He greets me with a bear hug. The choir is practicing; the sanctuary is spotless, beautiful, with lovely stained glass windows. The pews came from a church in Indianapolis, and are said to be 100 years old. Will says we are baptizing a young infant and he needs to go talk with the family. The church starts to fill up and the choir, with some 20 to 25 voices, processes in; the music is terrific.

I will remember one line from Will’s sermon, forever. “Church is not a spectator sport.” St. Paul’s is full of life. Its new resource center, in a house around the corner, is triaging people and helping them get services. The dorm upstairs can sleep up to 30 volunteers, on cots with foam cushions. The center has a small kitchen and showers are available next door.

The trailer/washeteria (a laundromat for you non-southerners) is up and running in the church parking lot. It contains several washers and dryers and is a joint effort of St. Paul’s, United Way,

and donations from folks like us. It is used constantly by folks in the neighborhood, who come to wash their clothes for free. Many in the neighborhood are living in trailers. Some houses look like they will not be rebuilt, but most look like they are being worked on or may be salvaged.

When the offering plate comes around I put a check for $10,000 in the plate, from the Diocese of Olympia, representing We Will Stand With You gifts since Diocesan Convention, along with a prayer card I wrote. At announcement time, Will introduces me, my wife Susan, and my three guests, two from Vancouver, B.C., and one from North Carolina who are in town with me for a board meeting of TENS, The Episcopal Network for Stewardship. He says the Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington) is the diocese that sends those prayer cards and is leading the way in helping St. Paul's.

Following the service, a gentleman about my age, in a business suit, sitting in front of us, turned and said to me, “Thank you for all you are doing, you have no idea how much it means to us.” He wipes away a couple of tears with his finger as he is speaking to me. I feel the presence of the Lord’s Spirit through him, through all the folks in this place, I am grateful for the opportunity to witness this in person.

After the service we go to coffee hour and I find John Joseph, the sexton for the church, who came to our convention. I spent a lot of time with John Joseph on his visit her and I know of his harrowing escape from Katrina. His family escaped to the gymnasium at the school, and spent two days there before being rescued by a boat. He shows me the water line on a shed in the parking lot where the water stood for three weeks. It is eight feet above the parking lot and it was eight feet high in the church and school. I walk out in the kitchen with John Joseph, and he tells me of the water coming and rising quickly, when the levees broke. He had been standing right where we were today.

He realized he needed to get out; he could not open the door outside, as the water was too high, he climbed through a window in the kindergarten room, and went over to the gym on higher ground.

We have a couple of lovely dinners in New Orleans, we have beignets at Café Du Monde, we listen to a great traditional jazz band called the Jazz Vipers at the Spotted Cat Café.

We drive, via cab, through ramshackle neighborhoods that that look like they may never be rebuilt, only a couple of miles from a bustling downtown and French Quarter that avoided the floods.

There is juxtaposition among all the people we meet. Many are committed to staying, to rebuilding, but I sense in every person a “depressive psyche” that pervades life in New Orleans. Crime is rampant, there is fear, and there is distrust of the local and national authorities. The church seems to be a home for hope for many of the beloved. I am proud of the work we are doing with the people of St. Paul's, including our monetary support, because I know these funds are doing good works, no bureaucrats in the middle. I know of the dozens of volunteers scheduled to come to St. Paul’s and do work, helping neighborhoods rebuild in the months ahead.

On our last night, Tuesday, I have dinner with Will Hood, Katie (the school's athletic coach), Matt, and Melanie. We talk to Katie about bringing some eighth-graders from the school up to Camp Huston in July for one of our sessions in Gold Bar. She is so excited -- she wants to come too, and she will. Maybe we can organize home stays for some of these youth through our diocesan youth and their families.

Our flight home from New Orleans is delayed by ice storms in Dallas and a two-hour equipment repair while we are all seated on the plane, waiting for a part to be replaced. We arrive home, three hours late, after a 12 hour travel day. Our bags come out early, we are grateful to be home have many feelings to decompress about our visit to New Orleans.

Some people ask me upon return, what about the levees. Couldn’t this happen again? I say, yes, it probably could. But put yourself in their shoes. This is their home. The city's population is half the size it was before Katrina, but those who’ve come back want to stay and rebuild. Will the city ever return to what it was? Who knows?

What I do know is that we are developing personal relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, who are not only trying to rebuild their own lives, their church, their school, but are also reaching out to those in need. St. Paul’s School brings hope to all of Lakeview. Isn’t that what the Gospel is about? I am grateful to be able to help our diocese raise funds and support these folks.

Carl Knirk
Carl is the Bishop's Deputy for Planned Giving in the Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington)