Rev. Vanessa Hawkins
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Designated Associate Leader
May 2006, I participated in a guided tour through several neighborhoods in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had swept through the city. Starting in the Garden District, our guide systematically led us, a group of nine, through neighborhoods bustling with joggers, commuters, and restaurant employees preparing for the dinner crowds. There was little noticeable damage in this area. Bit by bit, we meandered through neighborhoods and we witnessed the damage suffered by those living in the lower areas. In the Ninth Ward, it felt as if we were driving into a desolate place – a place of death and destruction and silence. Unlike the Garden District, there was little to no evidence of life—no birds, no commuters, no movement, no sounds, no smells, no people laughing, loving, or moving about. Katrina had left her mark.
As we began to return to higher ground, we encountered one young woman from the Ninth Ward. She and her husband were reclaiming their lives, their home, and their neighborhood. Standing alone on a deserted street, the wife turned and pointed from one demolished home to another, she called out the names of her absent neighbors and shared her dreams of a revived neighborhood. She stated, “If we build, then our neighbors can see that they can come home. It just takes a little work.” One by one, through the power of naming and memory of what was- she (re)claimed the future—a neighborhood once again thriving as a community. In reclaiming her past, she was birthing not only her future, but also the future of those left behind. Vision, faith, memory, and tradition were her tools of resistance to trauma, loss, and disruption. One group member commented, “New Orleans will be rebuilt by people like her. People who can dream dreams and envision a future even when there are no visible signs of renewal. People with the drive and dedication to do the work even when doing the work seems hopeless. She is what New Orleans needs because it will be people like her who will create the new New Orleans.”
In many ways, their story is our story. Over the last 7 weeks, I have meandered Northside, Westside, Southside, and center of the city. I have listened to narratives of loss and disruption. I have felt the grief of some as they recounted the challenging decisions made to reclaim a flourishing future for this presbytery. I have heard the sighs of resignation and sensed the fears that the recent undertakings may only lead to failure. But, I have also witnessed the fierce dedication of many seeking to move us towards a more loving, sustainable and just future. I challenge us to be like the young woman from New Orleans and to continue to (re)claim our sense of community and reform our vision of what it means to be a vibrant life-giving presence in the world and in St. Louis. For this presbytery to be the vision of the Kindom that God holds for us – we all must participate in the reclaiming and rebuilding. Giddings Lovejoy is not just on the path of claiming a new future, but is also trailblazing a new model of ministry. Remember, we belong to God and it is God who has extended to us and through us – a call to new life. We are walking an unknown path with God who is very present in our new unfolding drama of discovery. We are the bearers of God’s dreams for this presbytery today.
Rev. Vanessa Hawkins