Finding New Meaning in Holy Week

The Rev. Jerry Kramer, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in New Orleans, prays with Bill Simmons, who is living in a FEMA trailer.
The Rev. Jerry Kramer, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in New Orleans, prays with Bill Simmons, who is living in a FEMA trailer. (Religion & Ethics Newsweekly)
By Kim Lawton
Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly
Saturday, April 15, 2006

NEW ORLEANS -- The Rev. Lance Eden hasn't been a pastor for a full year, but the United Methodist minister with a congregation of fewer than 100 has presided over a dozen funerals.

In this city, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, death and destruction have become all too familiar. Eden says Good Friday resonated in new ways.

"Being able to understand how Jesus suffered, and understanding our suffering, knowing that if Jesus suffered and we're followers of Christ, there's going to be some suffering we're going to face," Eden told the PBS program "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly."

Across town, another first-year pastor, the Rev. Jerry Kramer, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation, also found the legacy of Katrina looming large over Holy Week.

"We are people who are standing at the foot of the cross, really," he said. "We've been in Good Friday since late August. We live in both the reality of the cross but also the reality of the resurrection, and we are caught in that tension."

Even apart from Katrina, Easter can be a busy -- and stressful -- time for ministers. Both ministers say clergy members on the Gulf Coast feel especially burdened this year as they balance their regular pastoral duties while dealing with their own losses and ministering to congregations that are trying to recover from the storm.

Eden, 27, came to First Street United Methodist Church in June as a new seminary graduate. He grew up near New Orleans and was thrilled to come home. First Street is one of the oldest African American churches in the city, founded in 1833. In recent years, the church had been experiencing a decline.

"I think [the congregation] just needed a rebirth, something new, a young person to come in and ignite that fire," he said.

By August, the church was feeling momentum and adding members. Then Katrina hit.

Although the historic church building sustained only minor damage, the congregation was scattered. Many members have not been able to return to the city and their homes.

Because the church could not afford a parsonage, Eden, who is single, was living with his grandmother about a half-hour's drive from the church. Katrina ruined their home.

"We lost everything," he said. "Everything from cars to personal items."


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