What a week! This is not exactly how I had envisioned beginning our life and work together.
I have been reminded often of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
As I prepared to travel to Baton Rouge last week, I remained tuned to the weather channel. While I began praying for you shortly after my election, my prayers became very focused last week as I prayed that God would protect each of you from harm as Hurricane Isaac whirled its way into the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of great uncertainty, I knew one thing for sure – you would once again rise above any storm. My suspicions have been confirmed - the people of the Louisiana Annual Conference are resilient and faithful beyond measure.
I, along with several of my colleagues, traveled this week through the areas affected by Isaac. Several days after the storm, many areas were still impassable, but at every stop, we were met with smiles and a sense that all will be well. In every case the church was “being” the church in the community. Our churches were the center of the recovery for the community, living out in real time what it means to love God and love our neighbor. Thanks be to God!
We witnessed first-hand and heard the stories of those who had lost everything as the flood waters overcame their homes. We have seen the impact of a flood bucket and a hygiene kit. It is amazing how important a wash cloth and a toothbrush can be to one who has none. These are sacramental gifts given by faithful and generous United Methodists.
I was excited on July 20 when I learned I was assigned to Louisiana but today, I must say I am not only excited, but I am extremely proud to be your bishop. I get a great sense of your love, commitment and desire to be a transforming presence in the communities you serve.
Over the next few weeks you will have an opportunity to continue to respond in tangible ways. You can put together a flood bucket; you can register to volunteer to help in the recovery process; you can contribute to a special fund to help our many churches who experienced damage; and you can of course pray without ceasing.
Above of all I trust that you will remember the words of the Psalmist, “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.”