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It's slow going in New Orleans

It’s Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. But there’s nothing easy about life for most people who live in a city that was brought to her knees by hurricane and flood, reports Patrick Keen, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church (elcano@bellsouth.net).

Four months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and water from the breached levees flooded most of the great city of New Orleans, we are still in shock. The city is celebrating Mardi Gras, and we are still in shock.

In shock. As we day-by-day discover the horrific devastation that has caused New Orleans in this 21st century to seriously consider what its future, our future, will be. In shock. As I drive through neighborhoods and communities, still not believing the depth and girth of loss resulting from the flooding.

When I speak with people from across the country, I’m always asked, “How are things going down there?” Truth is, it’s slow going.

Believe it or not, as people trickle back into the city they are filled with awe, seeing the widespread destruction caused by the failure of the levee system. Many are frustrated by our elected officials' failure to bring meaningful leadership to this problem we face. There are failures on each level of government—federal, state and local. There is a huge need to make a decision as to how New Orleans will come back—and what it will take to bring it back.

Insurance companies play games with claims and pay only a fraction of amounts allegedly covered by policies—that is, if one has been able to reach a claims adjuster. For example, I was informed by a claims representative that Bethlehem Lutheran Church would receive $26,000 for damages. We received a check for $6,000. This is the same experience many homeowners face as they try to recover. How disappointing and frustrating for people, many who have no other way of becoming whole.

The good news for our congregation is that just about every Sunday another member returns to worship. Now our worship attendance averages 40. Our pre-Katrina average was 120 in two worship services.

We are preparing our facilities to host groups of ELCA members who are interested in coming down to help in the recovery efforts. We need skilled and unskilled volunteers to help in a variety of ways. We need people to come down and view for themselves, then go back and tell the story of the problems in this region of our nation. We need our bishops, pastors and politicians to lead as they have been empowered by God and the people of God to lead in these days of leadership voids. Tell the story of the great opportunity that is before us.

Editors note: The Lutheran previously covered Keen and his congregation in its October and November 2005 issues. Read "Reach down and show mercy" and "A shepherd searches."

This week's front page features:

Natural jump: 'I’m Pastor So-and-So and, yes, I was a camp counselor.' (Image at right.)

Sad stuff: We need to lament, confess and to plead.

The taste of wine: In it are healing, blessing and love.

Update: Giving youth a chance: LSS of Michigan wins contract.

Also: Digital divide in the ELCA?

Also: Liberia’s president accepts churches’ call.

Also: Book highlights the best of Lull.

Breaking news: FBI investigates defacement of Lutheran congregation.

Read these articles at our front page > > >

This week on our blog:

Sonia Solomonson blogs about understanding and respecting the religions of our next-door neighbors and our global neighbors.

Andrea Pohlmann (right) wonders whether those who read more often might “do better in life”?

Julie Sevig blogs about living vicariously through the Winter Olympics and about her new favorite sport: snowboardcross.

Amber Leberman writes about love poems, smelt and this e-newsletter.

Kathleen Kastilahn blogs about waking up to rooster cries in Laos.

Check out our blog > > >

One-week warning:

You have one week remaining to respond to two "tell us!" opportunities at The Lutheran:

Know a great congregational Web site?
In honor of www.thelutheran.org's 10th anniversary, we’re looking for the 10 best ELCA congregational Web sites. We're taking nominations for great congregational Web sites through Feb. 28. If you know of an exceptional site, please send the Web address to Amber Leberman. (Want to nominate your own site? Follow the instructions here.)
Respond on-line > > >


How does faith change?
Describe your faith journey, giving special attention to events in your life that have shaped it. What tools (practices, passages, elements of worship, hymns, etc.) have been helpful in strengthening it? Send 300-400 words to Julie Sevig by Wednesday, March 1.
Respond on-line > > >


This week in our discussion forums:

Take a moment and tell us (and your fellow readers) what you thought of the March issue of The Lutheran.

Or post an early comment for next week's discussion, in which readers will discuss the year's most spiritual films and this year's Oscar contenders with Frederic & Mary Ann Brussat.

Join the discussion > > >

Looking for a speaker?

Is your congregation, synod or organization planning an event? Do you need a speaker? The staff members of The Lutheran would love to bring our perspectives to your organization.

We've traveled around the world, reporting on what's happening in the Lutheran church, and we keep our finger on the pulse of the ELCA in our daily work.

We've given sermons, participated in panels, led adult forums and prayer breakfasts, and given workshops.

Call us at (773) 380-2540 or e-mail us to find out how we might meet your needs.

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