My recent trip to New Orleans was my third trip since Katrina. I was there for the UUA Board of Trustees meeting. (By the way, this was the third January in a row in which the Board met outside of Boston. The first time was in San Antonio, the second in Tempe, Arizona.)
My first visit after Katrina was as a member of the UU Service Committee’s Ministerial Advisory Board in the fall of 2007. We saw appalling devastation. In particular, I remember visiting the two UU congregations in the city. The water damage was horrible. The congregations were struggling to rebuild. First UU near downtown was in the midst of all kinds of structural rebuilding. Community Church was meeting in a home, their church building completely unusable.
Driving through the Ninth Ward was simply sickening. Abandoned houses and FEMA trailers were everywhere. Some brave souls were rebuilding.
The second trip was as UUA president in the fall of 2010. The city was in noticeably better shape, though the effects were still obvious. Many of the abandoned homes had been torn down, leaving many empty lots.
New Orleans is still far from recovered. We were told that the city’s population is about 70 percent of what it was before Katrina. The downtown tourism in and around the French Quarter seems thriving. The airport has more activity. Five years ago it felt like a ghost town with empty gate after empty gate.
Yet what a difference there is. We attended a supper at Community Church’s beautiful energy efficient new building. Sunday morning all three area congregations, including North Shore,worshipped together at First Church. The service featured a traditional jazz band and was structured around the stages of a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral. The service included an open casket into which we were invited to throw in slips of paper that had written on them things that needed to be left behind and buried.
The worship service ended, appropriately enough, with the band marching through the sanctuary playing a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The healing is not yet finished. However, it may be easier for an outsider who comes every couple of years or so to see progress more clearly. The story of our congregations in the New Orleans area is a story of resilience. Along the way they have engaged in important social justice work in the community.
Our brothers and sisters in New Orleans deserve our admiration and continued support.