Monday, January 23, 2012

Raw emotion in sacred space

Third in a series of posts about the January 2012 UUA board meeting

Eight of us met on Saturday afternoon with North Shore Unitarian Universalists in Lacombe, LA, about 50 miles outside of New Orleans (and over a v-e-r-y long bridge). Currently lay-led, I was struck by our welcome: their board members first met us in their “feng shui garden”, where we assembled and lit the chalice in a beginning ritual, then walked into the sanctuary with lovely music playing softly (which turned out to be a recording of their choir), setting sacred space.

North Shore was the “lucky” church – their beautiful new building was essentially unscathed by Katrina and its aftermath. Yet each person in the room had a story to tell: losing homes, friends, half of their church members, with a mortgage to pay. Piled on top of the trauma of the storm, was also a story of betrayal. In addition to Katrina, the congregation lost a long time minister to charges of misconduct. Those of us who have gone through this gut-wrenching event know how devastating it can be – add to that the personal trauma of the disaster, the high need for pastoral care at such a time – and two subsequent ministers who were unable to fulfill their charge and left in a very short time. This was a hurting congregation – and the raw emotion was still evident in their voices, their eyes, their faces. They feel both grateful and let down by the UUA – for providing funds and support, though not quite enough and not always the right kind.

“You don’t know how important it was” says worship leader (and frequent board president) Terry Van Brunt, “to have human faces on Unitarian Universalism. The people who came down to be with us.” The generosity of the congregation in light of their own struggles is inspiring – they give away the first Sunday plate, have helped and supported other congregations with more recent disasters, and are active in a variety of social justice projects in their community.

Together later that evening, each board group had a similar story to tell. Stories of gratitude to partner churches across the US that sprang up spontaneously to sent people and money to help. Elated that $3 million in relief was raised through the UUA and UUSC – and crushed when most of it went outside the walls of the three UU congregations. Community Church, which sat under 8 feet of water for three weeks, was bull-dozed. If you look up that address on Google maps, you see an empty lot. Three and a half feet of water on First UU’s first floor destroyed everything but the brick walls and a single hard drive computer. As board members – some of us on the board when this happened – we are saddened that we let them down. They were encouraged to combine, but unwilling to do so, believing they could be more effective in three locations. Out of that tension has come a strong partnership between the three, including the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal.

Community’s new, beautiful church stands at the corner of Fleur de Lis and 38th. The stained glass window from pre-Katrina days that had been in storage is installed in First UU, and their kitchen finally restored. A labyrinth, laid by members and volunteers, gleams in the floor of the sanctuary. I walked it each night I stayed at the Center, the path flowing softly in the light of the newly installed exit signs.

And there is so much more to be done, both in the buildings and the souls of those who survived. You can help by sending contributions (of any amount) per the instructions found here. A small amount from a lot of us could make a huge difference to these congregations.

Next post: Children and animals


John A Arkansawyer said...


Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but:

Did we withhold resources from congregations in need in an effort to get them to consolidate, one of them fifty miles outside the city?

And does it now look like we were wrong, pragmatically, to do so?

If that's the case, I think there may be an organizational wrong to be righted here. I see on that donations page $142,000 in directly Katrina-related needs and another $150,000 for a congregation damaged by Katrina. That's ten percent--a tithe--of that three million given.

Tell me more. Maybe I'm wrong.

Linda Laskowski said...

My understanding is that $3 million in total was raised, but at the time it was felt that it was not just for our congregations, but for the New Orleans community. $1 million was distributed to the 3 congregations according to need, and $2 million to the larger community. I do not believe it was tied in any way to the idea of consolidating, but rather a desire to help and support the larger community as well.

John A Arkansawyer said...

Thanks, Linda. That's not so bad sounding as I'd first read it.