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National Council of
Churches Governing Board
New Orleans, Louisiana—May 22, 2006—With a backdrop of hurricane-damaged awnings and blown out windows on the building across Tchoupitoulas Street, the National Council of Churches Governing Board prayed and marched along a route walked nine months ago by desperate people fleeing the floods of Hurricane Katrina.
The NCC’s governing board is meeting in New Orleans this week along with the NCC's Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. Commission chair, the Rev. Melvin G. Talbert, retired bishop of the United Methodist Church, told the vigil, “We come now as the church of Jesus Christ responding to this crisis.”
The gathering of nearly 50 national and local leaders of Orthodox Christian, Episcopal, Protestant, African American and historic peace churches then walked a half mile in silence, single file, to the Ernest W. Morial Convention Center. Hurricane victims had sought security and safety at the center. Many found only humiliation. Others spent their last moments on this earth at this site. The NCC gathering was led in a prayer litany calling on God to hear the cries of the people, cries for justice and cries for an equitable rebuilding of this city.
“There’s no question that New Orleans will be rebuilt,” said Bishop Talbert earlier today at a meeting of the special commission, “it’s just a question of who will this city be rebuilt for.”
The church leaders sang hymns as they walked back down Convention Center Blvd. to the hotel where they are meeting. “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” were heard amidst the sounds of rush hour traffic racing by the open-for-business Harrahs’s Casino, the Gordon Biersch Brewery, and some of the other riverfront hotels that have managed to reopen.
The Rev. Dr. John McCullough (right), executive director of Church World Service, NCC’s partner relief agency, said the gathering was “symbolic of God’s church” in this place witnessing for justice, speaking up for those who are waiting to return and those who lost their lives in this community.
McCullough said, “God is using the arms and hands and legs” of all of us in the work the church is doing to help rebuild this community and all those still ravaged all along the Gulf Coast
The general secretary of the National Council of Churches, opened prayer vigil on Canal Street by invoking the words of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. “We are ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a world not our own.” He called on the gathering to repeat, "We are the leaders we have been waiting for."
At the opening session of the meeting the board heard from local pastors, one of whom lost his home and saw his church destroyed. They heard stories of death and loss, of hope and resurrection. The NCC meeting coincided with hurricane preparedness week and the release of the forecast for the hurricane season that begins in two weeks.
NCC News contacts: Leslie Tune, 202.544.2350; Dan Webster, 212.870.2252
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