There was little to be saved at Community Church. However, at one of our
first meetings the conversation quickly turned to some of the precious items we
remembered from our church. One of our members asked, "What about those books on
My heart sank. I had already seen my office (photo right), and shared with
our members that I had taken these books from our library and stored them in the
bottom drawer of my desk. With six and a half feet of water throughout our
church, and a total of three and a half weeks before the water drained, there
seemed little chance for salvation for our Rev. Theodore Clapp's
Autobiographical Sketches and Recollections, no matter where they were
located in our church.
Then I received a phone call, just several days later. A group of CCUU
explorers had gone to our church and, after digging through a ton of debris,
they found these volumes in the back of my bottom desk drawer, carefully
protected by two Baggies.
Plastic saved these precious books—so precious to us because they contained
Clapp's story of the early history of the Unitarian faith in New Orleans. After
a very brief discussion, we chose to spend up to $1000 for the complete
restoration of these historic volumes. They are still in the book shop, in the
final stages of becoming fully reconditioned.
In Clapp's volume, we discovered that New Orleans has long been filled with
stories of our city, and Clapp had a knack for telling his stories. In the
mid-1800's someone said, "It was a common saying that strangers who came to New
Orleans to transact business never left without going to the American Theater,
the French Opera and Parson Clapp's church."
Parson Clapp fostered the move of his church from Presbyterian to Unitarian.
His congregation, known as "The Stranger's Church" was a leader in the
dissemination of Unitarian views in the South. We still celebrate that this
church was one of only two in the South that dared to remain Unitarian during
the course of the Civil War.
We believe that at that time our faith had much to share with this city, and
it still has much to share today.
In his text, Clapp said the people in New Orleans are accustomed to survival
and rebuilding. There have been other storms; there have been other
reconstruction projects. There have also been times when those in our fair city
have suffered from the ravages of Yellow Fever and Malaria. His text reminds us
that he stayed in New Orleans through the outbreaks of disease, although many
chose to leave. He survived, but he wrestled with the death of his son from
His text also shares the swings of human emotion in this city. New
Orleanians know how to party. To this day, after more than a hundred years, our
Mardi Gras rates high on the list of the great parties in the world. As he
explains, we may be so delighted with holidays (and now with our music
festivals) because we have rebounded from the impact of physical, emotional, and
Today, we are once again bouncing back.
Why are we rebuilding? What makes us think we have a reason to rebuild? Why
not give up, especially when we hear some around this country say we should
"forget about New Orleans?"
Well, for one thing, our congregants are here, and these UUs have dedicated
themselves to the reconstruction of our church. In addition, our city is
rebuilding (although this is a painfully slow process) and we believe our
members have a unique opportunity to bear witness to the tenets of our faith
here in New Orleans. We have witnessed the struggles in Southern social and
religious history and we know we can help with the reshaping of ideas,
attitudes, and policies.
There was little to be saved, except for us. Most in our church have
survived, and many are here.
After the storm, after we labored by phone and email to reach our members and
friends, we were told, "I did not know where my family was, or my neighbors, but
I knew how to reach the people in our church. You cannot know how important it
was, being able to reach out to them."
So on we go, struggling now with our survival, remembering a line from a
favorite hymn, "Lord I want to be in that number (as some in our group adds,
'with Pastor Clapp') when the saints go marching in."
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Thursday, August 2, 2012.
Sidebar Content, Page Navigation
More Ways to Search
Donate to Support This Program and the Ongoing Work of the UUA
Read or subscribe to UUA.org Updates for the latest additions to our site.
Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.