by the Rev. Craig Dalferes, St. Matthew’s, Houma
Driving home from school the other day, my 10-year-old son, Joseph, was telling me about what he’s learning about the Solar System. This led to a conversation about outer space, and about how vast the universe is. I said something about how the whole thing is really incomprehensible, that it’s so vast and huge, it’s hard to even wrap the mind around it all. He shrugged, “I think it’s easy…..I just think of it as God’s cooking pot.” I really love his way of seeing things, so now when I look at the starry night sky I imagine a great big cooking pot—all still simmering—still being created, still coming together like a good gumbo!
I want to tell you a story about something God’s been cooking up here in Houma these past several months. It’s still coming together so I’m not sure exactly how it’s all going to turn out. But I feel so privileged to watch the Lord bringing it all together, into something really beautiful.
About a year ago a few of our parishioners attended a “Bread or Stones” listening post here in town. We were challenged to become a “Covenant Partner,” of this ecumenical initiative to improve the well-being of children in our community, particularly those living on the ragged edge of poverty. We mulled this over for awhile, prayed about it, and without really knowing just what it would mean, our Vestry decided to “adopt” a nearby elementary school as our way of contributing to the effort. The idea of the Bread or Stones campaign is for churches to partner with other churches, with civic groups and governmental agencies to find ways to improve Louisiana’s consistently low ranking across nearly every metric of childhood wellbeing.
Our adopted school is Legion Park Elementary School, which is located only a few blocks away from St. Matthew’s Church & School. They have about 300 children, grades Kindergarten through 6th grade, all of whom are eligible to receive ‘free and reduced’ lunches. I’m embarrassed to say I only recently learned where Legion Park School is—it’s tucked away in a bit of a rough neighborhood—in an area which, until a few months ago, was just not on my mental map. With the School Superintendent’s blessing, we went to speak with the Administration and told them we wanted to help, and asked them to tell us what they needed. I couldn’t believe the kinds of things I was hearing: jump ropes for the kids to play with at recess, bulbs for the projectors in the classroom, chargers for the 6 laptop computers they had received but couldn’t use because they couldn’t plug them in!
We applied for and received a grant from the Community Mission Appeal funds. It was about $3,500 which in the face of such enormous need seemed only a drop in the bucket. But it has proved more than enough. We were able to begin by providing a few of these much-needed items. As we enlisted support from all across our community, the resources began to flow: not just monetary donations, but also time and talent. As an example, the Houma Tree Board, on which our St. Matthew’s Head of School volunteers, heard of our project and donated 11 trees to beautify the barren school campus. A friend from Rotary donated the soil and mulch. Our 7th graders here at St Matthew’s Day School went over to Legion recently, led by our Head, Myers McAllister, and with some of Legion Park’s 5th graders planted the trees together, as a symbol of the new relationship we are forging. An observer noted, “these kids live in totally different worlds, and yet here, on this playground, planting trees together, they’re all just kids.” As I thought about the day’s events it struck me that all of us learned something that day: the joy of reaching across boundaries that divide us, the beauty of something so simple as planting trees together, the joy of giving, the importance of relationships with our friends just next door.
About the same time we were organizing the tree planting, I heard from a Parishioner who had just come back from North Mississippi with 50 gently used PC’s which were donated to St. Matthew’s by a big medical consortium. This was literally like manna from heaven, as I had no idea this was even in play. We decided to send 25 machines, complete with monitors, keyboards, mice—all of it, to Legion Park which translated into a much-needed computer lab for the children. We figure it was at least $5,000 worth of equipment.
Most recently I got a phone call from a very large company who heard about what we’ve been doing and may be interested in partnering with us as part of their corporate outreach to the local community. This is still in the works, but if it comes together, then we’ll again see remarkable resources of time and volunteer labor flowing to Legion to the benefit of the children.
We are also partnering with a neighboring Roman Catholic church to get together some volunteers to help with after-school tutoring. This, too, is still in the formative stage, but I believe we’ll truly be able to help some of these children develop their full potential.
What we’re doing takes money, but the money and the stuff is only a part of a much greater whole. What really excites me are the relationships we’re beginning to form, which hopefully will continue to bring light and love into our community. It’s also deeply inspiring, I believe, for the beleaguered faculty and administration to know that the community cares about what they’re doing, and wants to help them in whatever small way we can to meet the enormous challenges they face each day. As a show of support, we are partnering with St. Francis Catholic Church to create a ‘Teacher Appreciation’ event later this Spring.
So, all I can say is ‘the Lord is so good’! He provides all that we need to do what he calls us to do. We just have to begin by offering what we can, as generously as we can. The Spirit will take care of the rest, and in the process, create something truly beautiful.
I’m grateful for the Diocese of Louisiana, and for all who gave generously to the Community Mission Appeal. Your gift has made a huge difference in the lives of at least 300 children who need—probably more than anything— to know that they are loved and valued, by God and by their community. Thank you for being a key ingredient in God’s cooking pot!