Today I used Power Point at church for the first time. It seemed like the best way to express the fullness of my trip to the Gulf Coast, to show the pictures and talk about them. I didn’t write anything ahead of time (daring!! scary!!), but ordered the pictures in a way I hoped would help express my sense of how devastated the area still is, how important faith and faith communities have been in recovering, and also how much a sense of humor can help in times of difficulty. The presentation ended with the last verses of Psalm 29, a plea that God might grant us peace.
The weather here was questionable this morning. It was raining last night, and turned to ice then snow in the early hours. Attendance at church was low, which was frankly disappointing, although the combination of bad weather and a three day weekend predicts such an outcome. Those who came were eager to know more and asked if we could have another opportunity for a further presentation. An informal group gathered at Coffee Hour and schemed a dinner in February with more pictures and talking and questions and answers, an invitation to the congregation that meets in our church on Sunday afternoons, and a fundraising component for Hurricane Katrina relief. We have a date, a cook, a person in charge of desserts, all in five minutes.
I’m thankful to these good people for sending me on the trip. When I came to be their pastor, I was worried that they were too inward-turned, that they were unlikely to ever take an interest in people far away. That proved to be untrue, as we have discovered in expanding our Prayer Shawl Ministry to include the local hospital, our work with UCC missionaries to South Africa and the HIV+ beadworkers, and now in their compassion for people far away on the Gulf Coast.
We tried to picture our sanctuary full of water, up to its high, high ceiling. The mind resists the notion. The mind resists the notion of drowning. I was asked what I thought about people in New Orleans celebrating New Year’s Eve when there are still bodies unfound. I said I think it’s human nature to celebrate being alive. It doesn’t have to mean we don’t care about those who are gone.
We prayed for the people whose lives are in disarray, and I especially prayed for pastors. Some feel forgotten by their denominational authorities. This makes me sad and angry. Thursday night I attended a meeting with my Conference Minister. He heard me tell this story and shook his head. I know where he would be if disaster struck City By the Sea.
I told of meeting pastors in denominations that would not ordain a woman and how I wondered if they would accept me. I was pleased to find that no one batted an eye. I explained that help has been given and accepted across lines of race and theology that would never normally be breached in this polarized society.
After church I am asked by a surprised parishioner, a woman in her fifties, “Who wouldn’t ordain a woman?”
Even people far away have the power to help. A man tells me how surprised he is to hear his boss is going to the Gulf Coast on a second work trip, at his own expense. I understand how his boss feels. I want to do more. Church World Service is still assembling recovery kits. Work teams are still forming to travel to the stricken areas. Each act may seem small. Each plane ticket may seem expensive. But in each act of caring, the power of God resides.