The head of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) observed "profligate acts of generosity" and compassion while visiting hurricane-impacted churches along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans and witnessing local relief operations.
During his first visit to the region since Hurricane Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold commented on the incredible faith and determination of Episcopalians in the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi, and noted with awe the resiliency and "deep compassion" of the local community.
"Even the people who've lost everything ... are reaching out beyond themselves for someone else who may have suffered more deeply," he said, in a report by the Episcopal News Service (ENS) the official news service of the ECUSA. "It's really an example of God's generosity made incarnate in men and women, and this is what gives us so much hope."
Accompanied by his wife, Phoebe Griswold; Robert Radtke, president of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD); and Barbara Braver, the Presiding Bishop's assistant for communications, Griswold visited four churches and a relief operations center in Mississippi and five churches in New Orleans, Sept. 19-20.
Speaking from, Church of the Holy Comforter in New Orleans, Griswold explained that such experiences "teach us how fragile life is, how vulnerable we are and how much we depend on the things around us."
"But when all is stripped away, the gift of life, the gift of community, the gift of compassion those are the things that really instill us with hope and give us confidence for the future," he said, according to ENS.
Seeing the extent of damage to people's houses, church structures and the collapse of the economic structures in many communities, Griswold recognized that there is an impulse on the part of many people to offer help in the short term.
"But it's clear to me that this is a very long term situation," he said, encouraging people to stay close to these communities, parishes and dioceses for months and years to come.
Meanwhile, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana explained that through Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), "we'll be present in these communities in long term ways.
We're present now in short term ways, he said, according to ENS. We're doing feeding ministry, we're distributing water and supplies to speak to the necessities of life, but through ERD we'll be here for development."
For ERD president Robert Radtke, the Sept. 19-20 visit to the Gulf Coast was the second in three weeks and one which gave him a deeper impression of the physical damage from the storm and the enormous task ahead in rebuilding the affected church communities.
Acknowledging the "wonderful work and ministry" of Episcopalians in Mississippi and Louisiana, Radtke said, "I am in awe of people's ability to focus on the future, especially given the deep personal crises many of the clergy have experienced. It truly is a heroic ministry," ENS reported.
ERD expects to partner with local dioceses for three to five years.
At the end of the ENS report, Jenkins spoke about his own responsibility in helping to rebuild New Orleans and in reminding the civic and governmental leaders of a high calling.
"We don't need to rebuild what was here, because there were some very sick things here," he said. "We've seen the horror and the shame of the poverty and the racism in this city and of the gross economic system of the very wealthy and the very poor. The role of the church and for me is a prophetic role and it's calling the powers that be to a higher vision for the future."
Jenkins also asked for people to be patient.
"Every person on my staff is displaced," he said, most of us are homeless, we are having a struggle to take care of ourselves and there will obviously be a time very soon when we can use the hands and the feet and the backs of others to help us dig out of this muck. But right now we need your prayers, we need your patience, we need your continuing gifts. We're showing up, we're holding on and we're doing our best."