[Episcopal News Service] Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the largest parishes in The Episcopal Church, will hold its Christmas Eve services in a synagogue this year, with its sanctuary rendered unusable by renovation work.
Trinity will celebrate its two Christmas Eve services at Temple Sinai, Louisiana’s largest Jewish congregation. Normally, Trinity’s massive sanctuary is packed for Christmas; the parish had a pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance of 382, according to parochial report data.
But in August 2021, Hurricane Ida – one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall in the United States – hit New Orleans with heavy rain and wind, destroying some buildings and damaging many others. Trinity did not appear to be heavily damaged at first, but the roof of the sanctuary received enough water damage to be “very upsetting to engineers,” the Rev. Andrew Thayer, rector, told local news outlet Uptown Messenger.
The wooden rafters needed to be reinforced with steel beams, a project that started this past summer. Unfortunately, that meant the entire sanctuary needed to be closed until the spring of 2023, Trinity’s staff estimated. Trinity has been holding worship services in the parish hall, and the Christmas Day service will be held there, but the space isn’t big enough to host the popular Christmas Eve services.
Other churches and synagogues offered to help, including Temple Sinai, Uptown Messenger reported. The two congregations had a long history of collaboration, said Thayer and Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Daniel Sherman. For several decades, both congregations have participated in a rotating interfaith pre-Thanksgiving service with other local houses of worship. Thayer and Sherman are also members of a group of New Orleans faith leaders, nicknamed “the God Squad,” who meet regularly.
Temple Sinai experienced minor water damage around the windows and a smaller renovation project is planned to address that, Sherman told Uptown Messenger. But Hurricane Ida also coincided with the High Holy Days, so those services were held online, with members attending virtually from evacuation sites around the region.
“We know what it’s like to be displaced,” Sherman told Upton Messenger.
Thayer said they wouldn’t need to make any significant changes to the space, except to bring in some decorations and a small altar, where Communion will be celebrated.
“Christmas is a story of displacement, with no room at the inn,” Thayer told Uptown Messenger. “You learn something about your identity when you’re displaced.”
“For the Holy Days this year, one of our themes was ‘Welcome home,’” Sherman added. “Trinity doesn’t have that opportunity. We know that this is their Holy Day — and we want those who come to worship to feel at home.”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.