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NCC sets June 1 as day of prayer for Gulf Coast

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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 Coast.

“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.

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A UMNS photo by the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana

A 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 lives.”

Commission report

“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 Orleans.”

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
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 the poor.

“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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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