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This page last updated 10 October 2005  

an essay for Anglicans Online
9 October 2005

“I saw the Holy City…”
The Rt Revd Pierre W. Whalon, D.D.

The bishops and I listened intently to the Bishop of Mississippi, the Rt. Rev. Duncan Gray III, at the House of Bishops meeting. We were especially glad to see him with us, along with Bishops Louis Jenkins of Louisiana and Philip Duncan of the Central Gulf Coast, and to hear firsthand from them what they needed. None could be with us for only a brief time before they needed to return to their dioceses, savaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Here in Europe we Episcopalians had been proud and deeply moved to see Bishop Gray in rochet and red chimere and the people of St. Mark's, Gulfport, Mississippi, gathering to worship Christ on the foundation slab of what had been their church. CNN and other networks carried the Eucharist live around the world. It was a powerful image of the Church as it really is, not a building but a people. There on the screen Ignatius of Antioch's ancient definition of the Church—the Bishop and the people together making Eucharist—was incarnate. For a moment we could visualize the Holy City of God in which we are called to dwell together, with the Lamb of God as our sun shining on our joyful faces forever…

But Bishop Gray was not talking about that moment. He was speaking earnestly about re-building the dozens of churches that Hurricane Katrina completely destroyed: “no point in re-building the churches until we re-build the communities…”

What a thought! We indeed cannot possibly re-build the churches of Louisiana and Mississippi if there are no people living around them to worship in them. Which means the Church has to be about the business of community re-development at the most fundamental level, before we can spend a dime of the insurance money, and much more money that will be required to re-build (or should we say, re-plant) the congregations we have lost.

How can we possibly do that? Bishop Gray encouraged us bishops to invest funds in the Hope Community Credit Union,[1] which covers the affected states. While this is certainly a great and commendable thing to do, it is only one credit union. And yet, this possibly contains the seed of the Church's part of the solution.

The greatest need for re-building that we can supply, beyond prayer, direct service to the displaced, and encouragement, is access to capital. One could define poverty as the state of living without access to credit and capital. While the casinos, tourist attractions, and upper-class people will have no trouble getting access to credit and capital, and cheaply at that, the poor—even the working poor—will have to re-build their homes and small businesses as best they can, with little or no credit and capital.

What if Episcopalians joined with other churches in creating a large pool of funds from faith-based credit unions and other sources for these loans? And not only ecumenical partners, but also interreligious ones. Call it, say, the People-builders Fund. Monies would be invested in Federally-guaranteed instruments, albeit with a modest rate of return. Some of the billions of dollars held by denominations, church endowments, pension funds, religious orders, etc., in their portfolios could be safely directed for some years to this People-builders Fund. As a result, the Fund's steering committee could then challenge major lenders to join in.

They will probably point out the high costs of small loans (under $100,000). The People-builders Fund would also solicit money to be donated directly to offset some of the expense of making and servicing these loans. It would enlist the expertise of micro-loan funds already working in the United States and the Third World, using for example cooperative arrangements that bring several debtors together for support and accountability. There are lots of ways to get this done.

Loan by loan, family by family, homes would be re-built or raised up from scratch, small businesses started or re-started, and infrastructure replaced as tax revenue flows again. Schools and hospitals would re-open. As devastated communities come back to life, the essential role played by the churches would be remembered, and then as we re-open or re-plant congregations, their credibility would be already established.

Furthermore, when the decisions are made around the metaphorical table about credit and capital, building codes and environmental standards, fair housing practices and construction methods, the religious community would be sitting there as a full and credible partner. We would throw our weight toward the establishment of industries and services that contribute to the well-being of a region, and create good-paying jobs. We would insist that environmentally sustainable practices be established and adhered to. Energy efficiency for instance is good stewardship, which means of course that it is good business. [2] Home ownership for the working poor could be integrated into redevelopment plans.

The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly in Puerto Rico to protest the President's suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act, the standard of the prevailing wage that must be paid to workers on Federally-funded construction projects. Such issues could be dealt with as well by the People-builders Fund and its backers.

It would not be difficult to find people who can put together such a project. For years members of the Episcopal Network for Economic Justice [3] has been developing such projects around the country, albeit on a much smaller scale.

We have the expertise, experience, money and motivation. What is stopping us from developing the tool to be a major contributor in re-building devastated communities? And as neighborhoods grow back, and towns and cities knit together again, our churches re-born would offer again our vision of the Holy City of God, now made visible a little in this life, a downpayment of the life to come.

[1] See

[2] See “More Profit with Less Carbon” (Focusing on energy efficiency will do more than protect Earth's climate--it will make businesses and consumers richer.) By Amory B. Lovins, in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American (



Bishop Whalon welcomes comments or questions about this article. You can write to him at

THE RT REVD PIERRE W. WHALON is Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.