Saturday, 22 August 2015 17:48
I see friends shaking hands, sayin', “How do you do?”
They're really sayin', “I love you.”
George David Weiss, George Douglas, Bob Thiele (but sung by Louie Armstrong)
It was about 10 years ago that Louisiana’s UU ministers met on a Thursday and had a wide-ranging discussion on local issues but nobody mentioned Katrina. On the very next day the storm’s clouds had covered the Gulf and its winds had shifted direction. Our city, the center of jazz, gumbo, Mardi Gras, and joie de vivre could only surrender when the levee failures let loose a surge of water.
I recall when the National Guard allowed us back in to see the devastation. The Reverend Aaron Payson of the UU Trauma Ministry Team accompanied me on my first return to the city. We already knew that 80% of the homes were flooded but it was so difficult to see the water surrounding the homes in the neighborhood of our church.
The National Guard allowed people back to the city 60 days later and we learned that UU church membership was halved and our buildings were all damaged. Many UUs rebuilt their homes as they rebuilt their churches. The rebuilding focus led to the establishment of the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist (GNOUU) cluster, a special gift that continues to gain strength over the years.
I serve at Community Church Unitarian Universalist. Its members met in three churches and a synagogue from 2005 to 2007 before buying and saving the house next door. We worshipped in this “annex” for four years while raising money and making our plans for rebuilding. Church members gave much but could not do it all. They are most grateful for the help of UUs around the country. The magnificent results of the special collection thrilled us. But we share a special thanks to our partner congregations: Fox Valley UU Fellowship, Appleton, WI; Community Church of New York UU, New York, NY; UU Congregation at Montclair, Montclair, NJ; Universalist Church of West Hartford, West Hartford, CT; Williamsburg UUs, Williamsburg, VA; and Pacific Unitarian Church, Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA. Their members helped CCUU build a passive solar, solar-powered, 21st century building—a church that is very close to net zero in energy use.
There is much more to church life than rebuilding although rebuilding seemed a major concern at all three of our congregations until our churches were serviceable. But those at CCUU noticed three vexations in our struggle toward justice and equity: patriarchy, heterosexism, and racism. We looked for people to help whose needs were greater than ours, found community partners, and supported the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. Here are a few of our partners:
The Greater Seventh Ward Social Aid and Pleasure Club—we helped their youth spend after school hours sewing Mardi Gras Indian costumes, keeping them off our city’s streets.
The Days for Girls program helps young African women—we sew and send sanitary kits to young women who want to go to school through an entire month.
The music program in Mamou, LA—we helped fund their school band.
Unity for the Homeless—we assist in their efforts to reduce homelessness in New Orleans.
The Shepherd Center—our tenants, who provide activities for senior citizens.
The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond—for their anti-racism training.
Justice and Beyond—where we join African American leaders in dialogue on justice and righteousness for all citizens.
The Louisiana Transgender Association—where we support members in its leadership.
Saturday breakfasts for day laborers—where members bring food, assistance, and leadership.
The League of Women Voters—continuing to provide information and voter registration.
Planned Parenthood—where several have joined in work their valiant effort to erect a new health care clinic.
Despite the federal flood of 2005, and a swarm of difficulties that have followed, we are grateful for the journey. Those gray clouds led to a silver lining. Our commitment—to “live loving; love living”—guides us as we engage with this interdependent web of existence of which we are a part. And we still love the City of New Orleans, the Birthplace of Jazz, sight of Plessy v. Ferguson, where we are now involved in efforts to remove Confederate monuments.
There is work that remains here, yes there is. But one of the benefits to our Unitarian Universalist community is that you have supported a group of UUs who are joining in the fight. We appreciate your help whether it was through a donation or time at the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. Your support has allowed us the precious gift of revitalizing our churches, our lives, our city, and our world.
Most gratefully yours,
Rev. Jim VanderWeele
10 year commemoration of Katrina
Sunday, 14 June 2015 15:54
To: Our Partner Churches
From: Suzy Mague, Partner church liaison, Community Church Unitarian Universalist, New Orleans
Re: 10 year commemoration of Katrina
It is May, 2015, and we are preparing for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina - remembering the collapse of the floodwalls and terrible flooding which followed; the dreadful experience of loss; the wondering whether we had a home to come back to; and then the long, often uncertain recovery. When we sing “Wo Ya Ya” – “…it will be hard we know, and the road will be muddy and rough, but we’ll get there…heaven knows how we will get there…” I always feel drawn back to that time – that’s exactly how we felt. But Rev. Jim stayed with us, providing unfailing leadership and vision in spite of his own terrible loses, and we who returned were determined - “we know we will” was our mantra.
But now we know how we “got there”, and it was with Jim’s leadership, some strong lay leaders, the faithful help of our members and friends, and the enormous support we received from our partner churches. A very partial list of our memories includes receiving a gift toward rebuilding from Community Church New York that arrived even before many of us had been able to return home; Target gift cards from Fox Valley for everyone in the congregation at Christmas, 2005; a big gift of fun stuff for a party, also from Fox Valley; guidance from consultant Leigh Henderson, who was available by phone and also made several trips to NOLA; a fund raiser by the Universalist Church of West Hartford that featured our own Cindy Scott; and an enormous financial boost from Pacific Unitarian, who gave us our lead gift. We had visitors too – from the UU church in Montclair; from Fox Valley and Pacific Unitarian; from the UU Society of Greater Springfield, MA; from West Hartford, CT, and Williamsburg, VA and from other places too numerous to count. You helped us develop strategies; you helped rebuild houses; you kept us in your thoughts and let us know we were not alone; you made our survival possible. And some of you are still there for us, particularly Dave Banks from Williamsburg, who continues as our web master, providing an invaluable service.
We are happy to report that all of your efforts were not in vain. We are thriving, with a beautiful new solar church, and, of course, regular, meaningful Sunday worship. Our congregation includes about 17 children on many Sundays, so we are growing in the right direction. We participate in four GNOUU church services each year with our two sister churches, and we support the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, GNOUU’s secular nonprofit that works in the larger community toward justice and compassion. We have a community outreach collection monthly, which is given to a nonprofit with which we partner; we have an excellent music program, with an experienced and talented music director, a choir, and jazz on a regular basis. We have a small group ministry with three groups meeting monthly, exploring spiritual topics and forging strong personal friendships, a women’s book group that meets monthly, and other occasional sessions on UU history, immigration, and other topics we need to know more about.
We hope members of our partner congregations will continue to visit New Orleans in the coming years and will come worship with us while you’re here. Do notice our partner church wall, with posters, pictures, and other reminders of you. We particularly hope someone from your congregation will be with us for the weekend of August 28 – 30, when we will hold our commemoration of Katrina. Rev. Marta Valentin will return to New Orleans to hold a service at First Church on Sunday, August 30th. Marta was the newly called minister at First Church when Katrina hit. She currently serves as minister in Littleton, Massachusetts, which happens to be one of the 5 churches that partnered with NSUUS after the storm. Although still in the planning stages, we are in conversation with Marta about also presenting a workshop on Saturday, August 29th, for all three congregations. And plans are underway to hold a GNOUU Katrina Seder on the evening of the 29th. We would love to have you join us for this weekend. And do come to GA in 2017 in New Orleans – what a wonderful time that will be!
As we move through this 10th year, hoping we don’t have another storm, we are very aware of how much we have to be grateful for and how much opportunity we have now, to make a difference both to those in our congregation and to the larger community. Thank you from all of us – long-timers who lived through it and all the new folks who are glad we’re still here. You made an enormous difference, and we remember with deep appreciation.
Best wishes to you all from all of us at CCUU.
Wednesday, 06 August 2014 19:46
Rev. VanderWeele attended the First UU service where anti-choice protestors disrupted worship. This letter was written in response. 40 local faith leaders signed on to say that the Space for Worship is Sacred.
Letter: Time, space for worship sacred
On Sunday morning, July 20, the sacred time and space of a historic New Orleans congregation was violated. As congregants of First Unitarian Universalist Church, founded in 1833, held a moment of silent prayer to grieve a young woman of the church who had died the previous week, protestors from Operation Save America began to harangue the minister and spew words of hate to and at the congregation. In shock, but with increasing pain as these diatribes continued, the congregation listened quietly as protestors vilified and insulted them. Soon, though, the protestors were ushered out of the church.
As this was happening in the sanctuary, other protesters, holding grotesque images, massed around the windows of the church nursery, screaming at the babies and toddlers. Youth were told they were “going to hell” and that their family members were suffering from illness due to their sins. The church members responded by singing words of love, justice and freedom to counteract this hateful rhetoric.
For religious communities in the United States, the freedom to worship is a deeply cherished right. Whatever our faith, whenever we worship, the right to worship as we choose was fought for by our ancestors and is vital to all today. Along with this freedom comes the right to disagree, which is one part of the pluralism created by our religious freedom.
But all of us agree that no one has the right to desecrate the sacred worship time and space in order to express their disagreement. The undersigned people of faith do not agree on everything. In fact, some of us only agree that we have the right to disagree. But that is enough. No congregation, whatever their views may be, should have their sacred worship time and space violated. Not ever. Not by anybody.
I and 39 other local religious leaders by this letter call on the larger community to stand with us, with hearts joined on the side of love and in opposition to religious terrorism.
The Rev. Jim VanderWeele, New Orleans
The Rev. William Barnwell
The Rev. Paul Beedle
The Rev. Claire Vonk Brooks
The Rev. Gary Brooks
Pat Bryant, co-moderator, Justice and Beyond
The Rev. Callie Winn Crawford
Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn
The Rev. Jeff Conner
The Rev. Rob Courtney
The Rev. Don Frampton
The Rev. Lauren Frazier-McGuin
The Rev. Joann M. Garma
Vanessa Gueringer, vice president, A Community Voice
Michael G. Hackett, deacon, Diocese of Louisiana
The Very Rev. AJ Heine
The Rev. Henry L. Hudson
The Rev. Eronica C. King
Rabbi Ethan Linden
Rabbi Robert H. Loewy
The Rev. Dr. Jane Mauldin
The Rev. Priscilla Maumus
The Rev. Herbert McGuin, III
Rabbi Barbara Metzger
The Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger
Max Niedzwiecki, convener
Tom Paine, pastor
The Rev. Fred Powell, III
The Rev. Tony Rigoli, OMI
The Rev. Darcy Roake
Minister Norbert Rome
The Rev. Mitchell Smith
Dr. William Soileau
The Rev. William H. Terry
The Rev. William Thiele, Ph.D.
The Rev. Jennie Thomas
The Rev. Ron Unger
The Rev. Deanna Vandiver
The Rev. Tom Watson
The Rev. Dwight Webster, Ph. D.