Our group included two high school girls and one pastor-in-waiting. The original purpose was two-fold: I wanted these ladies to see the town first-hand and get a feel for what went on there in the past five years. And I planned to hand deliver the first copy of the book to Rev and Mrs. Rawls. The book wasn’t quite ready but we went anyway since the kids had Monday off from school. The trip was still a smashing success.
It was everything I dreamed it could be. The only two people we didn’t have time to talk to was Miss Susie and Chloe. Both are major heroines in the book. I guess I’ll just have to make another trip.
We started our visit with a stop at Dallas' house. Actually, I didn't think she was in town and called her cell to ask a question thinking she was still in New Mexico. When I found out she was home we went over before church. Everyone agrees that it's really not the true Pearlington experience without Dallas.
But the real meat of the visit--the reason all the FOPs (Friends of Pearlington) tuned in today was to find out how the church is coming.
Let me give you a little background if you're new here: The eye of Hurricane Katrina came right through this tiny town of about 1,600. First there was the wind and rain. Then calm and clear sky as the eye passed over. Then more wind and rain. And then the wall of water. I think the technical term is storm surge....ocean moved onshore by the storm. But all who saw it agree that it was a wall of water that brought 30 feet of water forcing people into attics and trees while it filled the town like a bathtub. The houses that weren't washed away were flooded.
After things calmed down enough to begin the rebuilding, there were countless faith-based organizations that came to rebuild the homes. Most worked exclusively on homes but a couple dedicated themselves to the churches on the theory that it was important to have the churches back up. Of the nine churches in town, the last church to be finished was the First Missionary Baptist Church. It was this church that provided a hot lunch every day for any volunteer working in the town. Everyone who ever worked in Pearlington ate lunch in their Fellowship Hall and watched with interest how the sanctuary was coming along. So, without further ado, here it is:
It's just gorgeous. The pews are wide, spacious and comfy. Rev Rawls has a brand new white clerical robe. The only thing that could possibly make it more beautiful would be for you to see it in person and I heartily suggest that. Westminster Abbey has nothing on this room. Barbara Brown Taylor once used a phrase that I love: “prayer-soaked pews.” This church hasn’t been around long enough that you might think the pews would be soaked with prayer yet; but they were certainly “Pre-Prayed” and I think that counts.
Rev Rawls asked me if I wanted to say anything and that was the invitation I had been waiting for. I had about four things to say and the most important one was to say Thank You. This church performed the most wonderful acts of Christian love I've ever seen. They welcomed us when we didn't know them, they fed us when we were hungry and warmed us when we were cold. In the winter, working on the rebuilding of their town was always miserably cold because none of the houses had heat. Forty degrees isn't cold enough to keep you from working but cold enough that you noticed when lunchtime arrived. We'd work for hours in the morning cold then walk into the fellowship hall to a wall of warmth. My glasses would immediately fog up from the steam and the smell of the cornbread would embrace me. It was important to be able to tell them thank you for all of that. And I'll never finish saying it to them.
I got one of Mrs Rawls’ healing hugs. Then just as the service started, Shirley Thompson walked in which made it a real bonus. Shirley is really a member of another church in town but she “worships around” since her church only has a service once a month. She told me she visits all the churches.
Idella Rawls and Shirley Thompson
Shirley told me when I was working on her sheet rock that as soon as she got into her house she intended to help the others get a house,too. And I saw her do that more than once. And whenever she hit a roadblock she would tell me that we needed to pray for the situation. I ended up putting Shirley in charge of praying for me when I noticed that her prayers usually got answered quickly and accurately.
After lunch I took the kids to Turtle Landing to provide a balanced look at the town. Turtle Landing has great burgers and provides a meeting place for the majority of the town’s characters. This particular day there were a few more characters and cigarette smoke than I was prepared to expose two high school girls to so we ate outside. This is Mississippi and you can actually eat lunch in the sun in January and it’s quite pleasant. It may be cold in the mornings but the afternoons can be beautiful.
Then we went visiting. We had already seen Dallas. Nothing much is new with her except for how great she looks after losing a bunch of weight in a good way as opposed to the bad way like getting sick. We visited Jan, my old buddy at PDA and got to see her house. The last time I was there her house was finished but she didn't have any furniture. I think she slept on an air-mattress for months. Then we visited DuJuan Bosarge, my hairdresser while I worked in Pearlington. I worked a little bit on the stairs to her house and always like to check on how they are holding up. You really get a feeling of ownership with working on someone's house. DuJuan's house itself is a marvel to behold. The guy building it told me he used something called "All Thread" which went from the second floor attic all the way through the stilts the house sits on and into the ground. Thirty feet of rod bolted the house together. If the house ever washes away it will go in one piece.
And for the grand finale we drove into Bay St Louis and ate with Heather Dungey who had worked at PDA with me. The dinner with Heather was the real reason I took Raelee and Madison. I've long been impressed with how she took a one-week volunteer trip to the Gulf Coast and turned it into a two year gig that morphed right along with a few job changes. I wanted the kids to meet someone who could find mission wherever she went. I'm afraid that the dinner didn't turn out to be the inspirational event of the year. The restaurant was noisy and by this time I think the girls were on information overload. I had crammed in as much information as I could until their brains overflowed. You never can predict when that will happen so it's just easier to keep cramming until you see their eyes glaze over.
Our drive home was typical of road trips with youth--they slept all the way home and I used the occasion to pig out on road snacks far beyond what was healthy. The one thing I DO NOT apologize for was the whole bag of Zapps Potato Chips. This is a Louisiana delicacy I allow myself only on the rare occasion and if you don't live close enough to get them, my heart goes out to you.
When I opened my emails this morning I got my daily reading from Richard Rohr. He's a Catholic priest and writer that some of us at my church have grown fond of. We even went to hear him speak recently and find his teachings fit us like warm gloves on a frosty morning.
Here's what he said this morning:
We need much more of a lifestyle-based Christianity: not “What do you believe?” but “How do you live?” What you believe in your head asks almost nothing of you. Lifestyle asks everything of us, and every day, and on ever new levels of choice. It is a journey that never stops.
During the morning bible study at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Pearlington, Mississippi they got to talking about Baptism. The four Presbyterians sitting in the back perked up our ears and immediately knew we wouldn't agree with their beliefs on baptism. Those Baptists will re-baptize you just any old time they feel like it and we firmly do NOT believe in re-baptism. I won't bore you with the details of the differences here but know this and know it well: our denominations do not agree on this point.
Reading Richard Rohr this morning I was reminded of what a small difference this is. I don't have to agree with their beliefs to love them. The people at that church lived their faith in a way that showed more love and Christian Lifestyle than any dogma could possibly cancel out. Our beliefs do not divide us. Christ unites us.
God is good.