Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lakeview Presbyterian

I couldn't leave New Orleans without talking to God.  There were so many things I wanted to say.  Ten years ago I had angry questions.  But mostly now I just had thank yous.  And there were too many thank yous to list. The whole experience, the people, it's just all too much.  My life was changed forever and in a wonderful way by something so horrible that I wish had never happened.  Almost every day I spent working on the Gulf Coast I found myself thinking "We're getting better and better at doing something I hope we never have to do again."

Sunday was a day when all my angry questions and desperate pleases had turned into glorious thank yous.

And I had one last young person to celebrate with.  I knew Alex Pappas when she was in high school and on the planning team for a youth event.  In the Presbyterian church once you meet a person you know them forever.  We keep bumping into each other all the time, all of us.  There are about five different ways people can see other Presbys in any given year and the busier you are, the better your chances of seeing each other.  Alex and I are busy, let me just say. And, to tell the truth, this was the second time I've seen her this year.



She's one of those kids we nurture with mission trips as a child so that's all they know, then we send them out as a Young Adult Volunteer when they leave college and they listen carefully to God and realize this is where they are supposed to be.  Right now Alex is working for Project Homecoming.  She's in a holding pattern waiting for seminary.  So I asked her to take me to church on Sunday and I would take her to lunch in exchange.

I was glad when she suggested Lakeview Presbyterian.  It was kind of PDA's "home church" in New Orleans. It was the church where we gathered to remember Rich Cozzone.  Rich was our boss when he was killed in a car accident just before Christmas in 2007. The staff was rocked to our core at his death.  It was late on a foggy night on a curve and Rich was tired.  He ran off the road and into the trees.  He died instantly. That was the first thing I remembered when I walked into the Sanctuary.  It always will be.

But for the members of the congregation their memories were of the times before the storm and the times immediately after and the day was for celebrating ten years.  There was powerful liturgy and moving music. Lakeview has a vibrant congregation.  It was from this congregation and their pastor, Jean Marie Peacock, that Project Homecoming was birthed from a series of grants. It was good to be there and celebrate with them.

It was even better to eat brunch at an amazing restaurant Alex suggested for us.  Eggs Benedict with crabcakes instead of ham.  Yeah. And a good conversation swapping ideas for changing the world.

From lunch I headed home, stopping at my step-brother's house in Slidell for a cup of coffee on the way. I never dreamed I would get to see everybody but I pretty much did.  I only missed Mrs Rawls and Shirley Thompson and a handful of others.  The trip had been everything I wanted.

New Orleans is looking good.  It looks better than ever, actually--when you consider that most of the homes you see in the Ninth Ward are brand new.  Yes, there are still abandoned, overgrown, houses that need to be demolished; houses that have sat untouched for ten years.  But there really aren't that many of them when you consider the entire city was full of houses just like them.

Some say parts of New Orleans has lost some of its personality.  Others say the drugs are slowly coming back, that the crime is creeping back.  Yuppies are moving in.  Some of the Mexicans who worked on the construction have decided to move there.  The people I heard this from welcomed the diversity.  A couple of times I likened New Orleans to "Disneyland with an edge" and people said that hit the nail on the head.

New Orleans is ready for you.  If you haven't been as a tourist, you should go.  They are ready for you.

And if you haven't been on a mission trip to help rebuild New Orleans, you should go.  They are ready for you. Just contact Project Homecoming.  We love to say that the Presbyterians may not be the first to arrive after a disaster but we are the last to leave.  There is still plenty of work to do.

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