Reflection from Rev. Jay Hogewood

August 24, 2016

Below is a reflection from Rev. Jay Hogewood, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, LA. 

He shares an honest reflection of what it's like to pastor in the midst of the disaster in south Louisiana. 

Saturday, hot as all get out, 2pm.

Ready to shift from receiving and sheltering evacuees to moving them to longer, more stable housing - hotels, rental units...somewhere more suited than our church family life center.

A dozen of us are tying up loose ends...calling every lead for housing...helping evacuees get logged on to FEMA...shoveling out restrooms...trying like mad to get the church ready for phase 2, which will be to host work teams for the foreseeable future.

The week's worth of "first touch" response was a beautiful mess, a taste of God's creativity over watery chaos. The team of volunteers were tired, a fatigue worn on our not-so-smiley faces, our hair-triggered irk-outs to one another.

"Have you gotten the Dixons somewhere yet?"
"Have was supposed to... No, like I have time for that!"
"Yeah well, you got it; I've got Michael and his kids."

There I was - loading up Michael and his partner, Mike. They were, famously, "The Mikes" in our 7 day shelter. Very kind, affable, easy-to-work-with couple. Needing help and a bit of financial assistance to get them to step 2 - a short term hotel stay so they could finish up the cleaning out of their townhome.

My Ford Escape packed up, I darted back inside to grab a water and my cell phone. Zipping out onto the sidewalk to my car then to get them placed in a home.

To breathe for a minute.
To look over some awful thing I was going to try to call a sermon.
To prep for Sunday worship and a Bible study.

And with my mind 7 steps ahead, Wendell was 2 steps behind me, but already in my way.

"Hey man," I said with as phoney a smile as I've ever etched on. "Ummm, how might we help you?"

Blank stare.
Drenched in sweat.
Maybe he didn't understand me.

"Um, hey, I'm Jay. Is there anything we can help ya with?"

I know and you know that is only a milder way of asking "Dude, can't you see we are about to close up, so what do YOU want?!"

"Oh, okay then, well, I'm Wendell," his voice sounds like a smile and a pat on my back.

He's 17 tops.

Sweating from the walk he's taken up Gardere Lane - a sidewalk-less street.

A mile or 2 Wendell has walked.
To get here.
To us.
To these evacuees he's heard are staying at our church.

"Mr. Jay, I just wanted to see if I could help with these..."

Wendell puts his little mesh backpack on the ground.

Carefully, he stacks 7 shirts and 2 slacks in my still unwelcoming arms.

"They're clean," he said, surely seeing the suspicion in my face. "Oh and one more thing,"

He pulls out a hand sized teddy bear (with a 2007 LSU National Championship little shirt on it).

"I want one of the children to have this," he offers.

"And here's something for y'all." Into his pocket, he reaches and places two $1 bills in my hand.

"I think y'all are showing the love of Jesus here. Hope you have a good day."

He turns to go.
On foot.
Down a scary street.
In the stifling balm of the day...

And I plop inside my air-conditioned car.
And I weep.
Right there.

Reminded that, as Gerard Manley Hopkins preached, "Christ plays in ten thousand places."

And maybe for a moment, thanks to Wendell, in my own heart again.

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