The Joint Rebuilding and Revitalization Capital Campaign was “officially” planned to be completed by the end of April 2011, and the Greater New Orleans UU leaders took advantage of the Earth Day gathering of all three churches to announce the end of the campaign.
The GNOUU cluster formed out of necessity after Katrina when representatives from the three New Orleans area churches (First Church UU, Community Church UU, and Northshore UU Society of LaCombe) began meeting together in 2006, along with representatives of the UUA, to figure out ways to survive and rebuild after the devastation caused by Katrina. Not only were all three church buildings damaged but our membership numbers were decimated.
After much planning, our national campaign was formally launched in 2008, as a 3-year campaign with payouts to run through April 2011. We reached inward to our local church members and friends, and nationally to UU individuals and congregations across the country. This was a new model that had never been tried before. We are very pleased to report that we raised $1.2 million! Thank you, thank you, thank you to all who donated so generously!
We also want to recognize and send a heartfelt thanks to all the UU churches who gave us not only financial help, but offered us hope and love in our hour of darkness. Our gratitude goes out to over 100 churches and organizations, including one in Canada. Many not only sent donations, but also became our partners, promising to walk with us throughout our recovery journey. In addition, many came to New Orleans to do hands-on volunteer work, sent supplies, or provided valuable advice, training, or emotional support. They inspired us to have the strength to pick up the pieces, one by one, and helped us to rebuild our lives, our congregations, and our churches. We are forever grateful. Thank you!
GNOUU leaders would also like to recognize and thank the minister co-chairs of the campaign: Rev. John Buehrens, Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie and Rev. Michael McGee, our UUA consultant, Larry Wheeler, and our S.W. District Executive, Susan Smith. A very special thank you to Claudia Barker, from First Church, one of the the lay co-chairs who really stepped in to help lead the campaign, and to her co-chairs, Mary An Godshall from CCUU and Gail Grob from North Shore. We also must recognize our administrator Alice Abel Kemp, and our ministers, Jim VanderWeele and Melanie Morel-Ensminger. Many people spent long hours and traveled far to work on this campaign. Thank you, thank you to everyone who worked so hard on the campaign and made this possible by giving generously of their time, talent, and treasure.
First Church UU:
Like their sister churches, First Church lost a nearly critical number of its members, but physically fell in between its sisters; not destroyed, not relatively unscathed, but almost completely crippled by profound, significant damage. Three and a half feet of water destroyed everything on the first floor of their building but the brick walls and a hard drive high in a computer perched on a desk top. The second floor of the religious education wing was spared and soon became a center to house and feed volunteers who came to New Orleans to help in the rebuilding of the city. Today they continue to house volunteers in their building as the organizing body for the housing and work assignments evolved into the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal (aka The Center or CEL). GNOUU funds have allowed them to rebuild their sanctuary and religious education areas and embark on the construction of a commercial kitchen. The kitchen is being constructed in a partnership with the NOAIDS Task Force, who will lease it for meal preparation for distribution in the city as a part of their mission. With the restoration of the sanctuary and religious education areas, attendance, membership and enrollment in religious education have grown at a rate beyond projection and they look forward to participation in outreach and community service work well beyond the level they enjoyed in the period before Katrina.
Community Church UU:
Just two months after CCUU had finished refurbishing its church and paying off its mortgage, Katrina hit. CCUU was completely destroyed by the floodwaters and it sat under 8 feet of water for 3 weeks. They had hoped to rebuild on the same footprint, but FEMA took care of that and the building had to be demolished. Membership was decimated and scattered, and they lost all of the young families with children. However, after 5-1/2 years and with great joy, CCUU dedicated its new church building on April 10, 2011. It will be the first solar-powered and Energy Star certified church in the state. In addition to rebuilding their physical church, membership is growing and they again have a choir and a viable children's program. They are active in community outreach and social justice work, currently focusing on hunger, education, homelessness, and the rights of workers. One of their community partners is the Porch, a cultural and community center in the 7th ward (Treme) that works with at-risk youth. They provide a safe place for the students to study and socialize, and teach local culture through art, dance, and theatre, including carrying on the local Mardi Indian tradition. Dressed in their Mardi Indian costumes made from materials provided by CCUU, some of the students helped celebrate at the dedication, providing a colorful and exciting end to the ceremony. Fundraising efforts continue to pay for needed furnishings, landscaping, and the solar panels, while the congregation looks forward to developing their vision for the future in their beautiful new space.
North Shore UU:
In the aftermath of Katrina, Northshore Unitarian Universalist Society of LaCombe found itself with the least physical damage of the three churches. However, with the loss of over half of their membership, the mortgage payment on their recently built facility was the biggest threat to their sustainable recovery. Through the 3-year campaign, they have paid down their mortgage and cut their payments by more than one third. These savings and the doubling of their membership have made it possible to support a quarter time shared consulting ministry with the two ministers of their partners in GNOUU. Beyond their support of the Center For Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal, the social justice mission on the north shore has deepened and expanded to address the issues of hunger, the homeless, inhumane parish prison policies, recycling, and the needs of the parish immigrant Latino community. Their program for children and youth is vibrant and growing. With the adoption of a new Covenant of Right Relations and a 50 Year Visions Statement at the end of 2010, they are putting in place the elements needed to sustain a healthy and promising vision for the future.
Greater New Orleans UU Cluster:
In addition to the cooperation and work to plan and execute the capital campaign, GNOUU launched a website, co-sponsored a UU ministerial intern, and created the Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal. The Center is our 501(c)(3) non-profit arm for joint community outreach and social justice work and it took over the responsibility of running the Rebirth Volunteer Center from the UU Service Committee. Additionally, CCUU and FUUNO share ministry with the North Shore and the three churches now celebrate four joint worship services together (i.e. Earth Day at Audubon Park, Poetry Service at CCUU, Hot Art in a Cool Space at North Shore, and end of the year Jazz Funeral at First Church). Over the last 5 years, working together as GNOUUs has given us many opportunities to share ideas and resources, develop meaningful relationships, and build our faith. GNOUU has even been referred to by our District and the UUA as a successful model for clusters of UU churches around the country. And even though the campaign is formally over, the GNOUU churches will continue to worship and work together. We just completed a workshop to develop our next 5-year plan.
Center for Ethical Living and Social Justice Renewal:
“CEL” or “The Center” continues to host and program between 800 and 1000 volunteers a year, sending them out to work with over 25 community partners who share CEL’s commitment to the holistic and equitable recovery of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Last year the Center began work in food equity and sustainability. In the first quarter of 2011, the Volunteer Program already has hosted over 300 volunteers. Future plans include continued community outreach to surrounding neighborhoods and growing both the national and local volunteer bases.
Although we have accomplished so much and raised $1.2 million, we did not reach our campaign goal of $2.7 million, and each church still has needs. We continue to solicit partner churches, encourage everyone to pay the balance of their pledges, and welcome any and all contributions, volunteers, etc., as all three churches continue on their road to recovery and full potential. The future of Unitarian Universalism in New Orleans is brighter and stronger today than anyone thought possible in the dark days after Katrina.
We are a living testament that all is possible when we are standing together on the side of love.