NCC sets June 1 as day of prayer for Gulf Coast
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert
May 31, 2006
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — With the arrival of
the 2006 hurricane season, a special church commission promises to be
watching, working and praying for justice in the rebuilding of the Gulf
“One thing we are discovering is this rebuilding is not something
that will happen overnight,” said United Methodist Bishop Melvin G.
Talbert, chairman of the Special Commission for a Just Rebuilding of the
Gulf Coast. “We need to gear ourselves up for being patient while at
the same time not giving up our uneasiness.
“If we don’t keep pushing, time will allow people to do terrible
things,” Talbert warned. He is concerned that as the city is rebuilt,
the poor will be ignored or treated unfairly, and that environmental
issues will be overlooked.
The special commission was formed by the National Council of Churches
last September. The NCC is the ecumenical voice of 35 member Christian
denominations of America’s Orthodox, Protestant — including United
Methodist — Anglican and historic peace and African-American churches.
Talbert presented a report on the work of the commission to the NCC’s
governing board at a May 23 meeting in New Orleans. The meetings were
held there to represent the church being present with those who are
still suffering eight months after storms and flooding damaged and
destroyed whole communities, officials said.
|A UMNS photo by the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana
man wearing a sandwich board covered with newspaper clippings joins
members of the National Council of Churches as they tour New Orleans.
The NCC is calling for prayers for Gulf Coast residents on June 1, the beginning of the 2006 hurricane season.
“As this new hurricane season begins, we are reminded that many of
our sisters and brothers all along the Gulf Coast are still living in
trailers or displaced from their homes from last August’s devastation of
Rita and Katrina,” said the Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist and the
NCC’s chief executive.
“As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer in our lives, so we
are asking all people of faith to remember those whose lives were so
uprooted by the storms that they may be given the time to rebuild their
“We will hold fast to our vision of restored communities of love and justice,” Talbert said, in giving his commission report.
During the meeting, members of the commission and NCC made a silent
march from their hotel on Canal Street to the Convention Center, where
many hurricane survivors sought security and safety but found little
help. A prayer vigil followed.
“What we were trying to convey is we remember the struggle the people
had as they marched to the convention center,” Talbert said.
Commission members plan to hold the rest of their meetings in the
Gulf Coast region, the bishop said. “Because of what we are doing there
is no reason for us to meet anywhere else.”
Meeting in New Orleans gave members time to meet and talk with people
on the scene and get a sense of what is really going on, Talbert said.
Part of the meeting was devoted to a two-hour tour. Talbert, who has
been to the area three times before, said, “I could see things a little
differently this time. People in the Ninth Ward are not going to have
anything to come back to even if they decide to come back to New
|A UMNS photo by the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana
Members of the National Council of Churches march silently to the New Orleans Convention Center.
The homes are crumbling and falling down, and many were pushed off
their foundations by the flood waters. “If they attempt to come back and
build on these lots, it is going to be so costly I am not sure they
will be able to do it,” Talbert said.
Insurance costs have skyrocketed, along with rent for people who are
trying to return to the city, he said. “They have already tripled the
cost of rent for homes in New Orleans. How do you get control of that?”
People making a difference
The commission’s vision is to “speak truth to power,” and it plans to
hire a coordinator to be its eyes and ears, Talbert said. “This person
will be the voice on the ground for us.”
The coordinator will help the commission identify people and groups
that are making a difference, so commission members can meet with them.
“Our role is not to do what they are doing but to find out the
struggles they are having and use our influence as the church to speak
to those issues so that there is justice,” Talbert said.
Efforts such as the Episcopal Church’s plan to build 100 homes for
low-income people are the kinds of things that are needed to care for
“If you just leave it all to the investors, they aren’t going to do
it,” Talbert said. “If you get groups committed, that is where poor
people are going to be cared for.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.