Sunday, September 23, 2007

HOB UPDATE: Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana
Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Feast of Philander Chase
Organizer of the first Anglican congregation in the Louisiana Purchase

Katharine Jefferts Schori Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church
celebrating and preaching

Before Katrina, New Orleans was probably glad to be taken mostly for granted by the world. It was a place you never had to visit but always felt you knew. Except for a few gnawing issues like endemic poverty and crime, New Orleanians probably felt they didn’t need too many outsiders messing up their good thing. Guests, tourists, the more the merrier. As long as you didn’t stay too long or, as the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has done this week, get too serious.

By the same token, they’re probably a little embarrassed to be so beholden to outsiders now. But Katrina left them with no choice. They need the all these do-gooders, even the ones who don’t know gumbo from etouffĂ©e. Since Washington seems to suffer short-term memory loss where New Orleans is concerned, this city needs us, all of us.

That’s why, I think, when Christ Church Cathedral filled up with bishops from all over America and around the world this morning, something maybe important was happening. It was like a blessing, a laying on of hands, an hommage for this city without which world culture would be—well let’s just understate and say it wouldn’t be the same.

What the presence of all these Anglicans here means, and what today’s services—celebrated in Episcopal Churches all over town—did was to make holy, in some way, the debt we all owe to this culture of radical welcome. Because that’s what it really is about New Orleans, isn’t it? There is no hospitality so generous as that refined over the centuries here. There is no embrace less judgmental than the one New Orleans gives the world. This is no Cincinnati. Or Paris. Music, food, conviviality, love of God, love of life, all given freely. That’s what seemed to be the point today, a high church enactment of obeisance to this place who we need at least as much as it needs us.

And that’s where the struggles of the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans come in. When the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori took the pulpit today she said “…those forced to travel or even start over with nothing can find grace along the way when something or someone connects them with what they knew of home.”By Tuesday, will The Episcopal Church be forced to start over and look for new ways to connect with home? I hope not. But it’s the ‘forced’ part that seems to threaten, the loss of latitude in belief and practice, in Katrina terms, of being trapped between the lake and river.

Maybe that’s what +Katharine was talking about, in part, when she drew metaphors from the city’s evacuation, “Traveling light can be a wrenching grief when it is forced not chosen. Yet, “ she added, “it can also hold the seeds of grace.” It’s the same grace that the do-gooders receive in return for “helping to heal a house that has been lost.” One prays the Anglican house will not be entirely lost here in New Orleans, that in fact, New Orleans will have rekindled the radical welcome in ourselves and our churches. For as our Presiding Bishop said in closing, what New Orleans has taught us is that “when the saints go marching in it’s going to have to be every last one of us.”

Oh, I want to be in that number.


Speaking of saints, my colleague John Clinton Bradley takes over the New Orleans blog tomorrow. More facts, less preaching. Enjoy.

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