Helping Hands in an Unnamed Storm

I must admit that I’ve rarely been very taken with the sacrament ordinance. Perhaps it’s because the mundane nature of deacons with untucked shirts and overly-long ties doesn’t mesh well with my high-church sensibilities, or perhaps it’s because sacrament meetings for the last seven years have mostly consisted of trying to keep my children reasonably quiet, but I’ve tended to side with Ralph Waldo Emerson who believed the ritual a bit too “dead” for his living faith. My family’s penchant for a lack of punctuality typically means we stay out in the foyer Sunday mornings, anyway. Which is usually fine with me. 

But I confess that I was surprisingly moved by a sacrament service this morning in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Stake Center. Maybe it was the disruptive nature of the service when compared to a typical sacrament meeting: rather than traditional Church dress, most everyone was in yellow t-shirts and jeans. Maybe it was the condensed length of the gathering: we were dismissed within fifty minutes. (If only that were more common!) Maybe it was the privilege to hear from esteemed non-Mormon dignitaries: speakers included Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and Louisiana Governor John Edwards. And to be honest, maybe it was because I didn’t have to look after my two small kids, who were over five hours away in Texas with my patient wife. But the most likely reason was the broader context of the service itself. As over a thousand men and women, gathered from hundreds of miles away, piled into the chapel and cultural hall overflow, behind us were boxes and boxes of bottled water, yard tools, clothing and food donations, and lots of LDS Helping Hands t-shirts of all sizes. The hands that were passing and taking the sacrament were the same hands that spent all of yesterday ripping up floorboards that were warped, tearing down walls that grew mold, and removing debris that were ruined by the record-setting floods of recent weeks that damaged or destroyed over sixty thousand homes. After the service the hands would once again return to work. Many will return again next weekend and the weekend after that. 

In his remarks at the service, Governor Edwards said that what was remarkable about the storm that caused all the destruction was that it came out of nowhere. It hadn’t be tracked for days over the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico and garnered widespread fear and concern. Rather, it was an “Unnamed Storm.” As a result, it did not receive the same attention in the national news typically associated with natural disasters. But it didn’t go completely unheard. The Governor quoted from our own hymn book to note that we, as “children of God,” were sent here to help out our “brothers and sisters” who were in need. There is no “unnamed storm” in God’s family. The hymn “Called to Serve,” which we sung in conclusion as an army of yellow shirts eager to work, took on new meaning. 

Partaking of the bread and water in remembrance of the body of Christ seamlessly blended with serving the downtrodden members of the body of God. That’s a sacramental message I find moving. 

Comments

  1. Christopher J. says:

    Thanks, Ben, for this. And thanks to everyone else on the ground helping out there.

  2. God bless you, Ben.

  3. Ken Nicholas says:

    I was there as well and appreciate your account of the meeting.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I love these kinds of stories. Thanks, Ben.

  5. Paul Reeve says:

    Thanks Ben. True religion.

  6. A decade ago we had a similar Sunday Service. I live in the West Coast and a massive overnight storm tore through the area. We arrived at church with no lights or power. The SP and Bishop gave brief talks about serving. Then we had the Sacrament. We were dismissed to find homes and families in our neighborhoods that needed help. (Not members only, either). It was the best day ever. My kids still talk about it. It was actually exciting to be doing something. I wish we could make Sunday Service a ritual. One Sunday a month meet at the church, say a prayer, have a brief scripture/devotions, then disperse and serve.

  7. I had a similar experience following Sandy. We spent thanksgiving weekend in the NYC area. Sacrament meeting was brief, we were all in work clothes, the stake president who spoke was in jeans and a hoodie. It was one of the most powerful sacrament meetings I have attended. The hymns we sung took on a new, actual meaning. The prayers we heard were from the heart. I was truly touched by genuine worship that day.

  8. Thanks for the story and giving me a chance to picture this morning’s meeting in my mind. I love those as well. I was Refief Society president when the Baton Rouge 2nd ward moved into that brand new stake center in 1992 just 3 months before Andrew ripped our city. Moved away in ’95 but I have lots of fond memories in that building.

    My in-laws East Millcreek ward bishop abruptly cancelled meetings one day and sent everyone to help a family when a sudden, early October storm threatened a ward member’s house that was temporarily without a roof. Father on law always said that was the best Sunday ever.

  9. This reminds me of one of my most memorable meetings. In 1997 the Snake River rose and flooded about 40 homes in our ward. On Sunday morning we finished with the Sacrament and the bishop stood up and said, “Everybody back to the river! Time to stack sandbags.”

    I would love to see a lot of meetings replaced with community service.

  10. J. Stapley says:

    Moving stuff. Thanks Ben.

  11. I wrote a very similar account right here at BCC after Katrina. Thanks for coming to help. We’re expecting 5,000 Saints over the next few weekends (not unduplicated.)

    (Aside: I stalked that man for over two years and busted my butt for over a year to get him elected. It’s John Bel Edwards, not John Edwards. If you called him “John,” he wouldn’t even turn around. Everybody calls him “John Bel.” Well, at least, that’s what we called him before we started calling him “Governor.”)

  12. This is wonderful! Thanks for this post, Ben.

  13. A Happy Hubby says:

    It was great. Even though I am sore and it was hot and humid, being able to help someone in REAL need was more spiritually uplifting Sunday than I have had in church in years. The people we helped were just stunned when these groups would descend on a house and in a few hours have all the sheetrock removed. At every house someone tried to pay us. When it was refused, you could tell they were deeply touched by the man-days of work that it saved them. I would pick a day of service like this over any 3-hour heavily correlated “service”.

  14. This is wonderful. Brings back memories of when I was a teenager in southern Illinois during the 1993 Mississippi floods. For several weeks we would meet for sacrament and then change clothes and drive to river to fill sandbags.

  15. I was happy to serve sacrament to y’all and then change into my work clothes and get back to the work. Thanks to everyone from the west side who helped out the BR stake, and to those from the east side helping out the Denham Springs stake. Last weekend’s stats for BR stake:
    about 225 homes completed, 8,500 man hours worked by 1305 people.

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