[Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana] On April 26, gaily decorated boats with colorful flags and horns blaring paraded along the muddy waters of Bayou Dularge in Louisiana for the annual “Blessing of the Fleet.” For over 60 years St. Andrew’s Episcopal Mission, along with St. Eloi Catholic Church, in the small fishing town of Theriot have hosted this annual boat blessing and parade.
This day offers a bit of respite for the hardworking shrimpers who make their living on the waters in south Louisiana. For months they have been preparing their boats. Now it was time for fun and companionship before the rugged work of shrimping continues. The Louisiana brown shrimp season opens soon.
At precisely one o’clock in the afternoon, the bell in front of St. Andrew’s was rung to call people to the bayou. The Rt. Rev. Morris K. Thompson Jr., Bishop of Louisiana, offered prayers for the fisherman, the boats, and the community. He then boarded the Brother’s Pride shrimp boat captained by Charles Lovell Jr.
The boat parade wound its way on the 20-mile route along Bayou Dularge to Lake De Cade. Throughout the whole journey Thompson moved back and forth from port to starboard sprinkling holy water on people and boats.
“Pour that water on me. Give us extra blessings this year,” spectators shouted from the shores. People smiled and waved as the parade passed.
Not everyone had the day off though. The crab fisherman were busy with their chores of mending traps. The oyster fisherman were bringing in their haul. Hundreds of sacks of oysters were being loaded to trucks for transport to restaurants across Louisiana and Mississippi. Life is never still on the bayou.
When the shrimp boats turned into Lake De Cade, they were tied together to complete the next step of the annual ritual. Thompson offered prayers for those who died while making their living on the waters. A memorial wreath of daisies was thrown into the lake. “May rest eternal be granted unto them, O Lord,” he said after a moment of silence.
Meanwhile back at St. Andrew’s, a crawfish lunch fundraiser was taking place. Visitors from Houma to New Orleans sat underneath sprawling oak trees draped with Spanish moss while eating their fill of spicy crawfish, corn, and potatoes. The funds from the lunch will be used to pay for insurance for the church building and to cover expenses for the Christmas time Santa on the Bayou, a ministry that provides toys and food for families in need.
Making a living on these waters is tough, especially over the past decade dealing with hurricanes and the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill. The community is close-knit though. They rely on families and friends to make it through the bad times and celebrate the good times. St. Andrew’s has been a part of the family for over 100 years.
The Blessing of the Fleet takes place each year on the last Sunday of April.
— Karen Mackey is communications coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.