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Voices On Violence: A Pastor Stresses Community

Jason Kruppa

Who: Don Frampton has been senior pastor of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church for the past 19 years. After Hurricane Katrina, his church created Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans (RHINO), which has brought more than 6,000 volunteers to New Orleans and built 29 homes through Habitat for Humanity.

In his own words, here's what Don has to say about:

Life without risk: Life well lived is always inclusive of risk. Risk is at the core of any honest life that is lived in such a way that you see yourself as an agent of change, or as someone who has something to contribute to the world. These things always involve risk, because you are talking about change, and change is difficult for people. There is a chance always that your ideas will not work out and you will have to live with the consequences, and that is the risk that is endemic to any new initiative. New Orleans is not as homogenous as other cities; Its very diversity means that there is an ongoing challenge to being a citizen of New Orleans and to putting together ideas and initiatives.

Community as a focal point: My work as a pastor is about community. People are in search of relationships and are social in nature and want to be a part of something larger than themselves — a collective purpose that is grander and bolder than any individual goal. We try to bring people together and unite them around a common purpose.

Looking over his shoulder: I don’t think first about personal safety when I go out the door on a day-to-day basis. Part of that is my own probably excessive sense of trust in the world… I keep resetting to this basic sense and feeling of trust and assume that the day will go well. I don’t leave the house en garde.

Crime then, crime now:  When we moved here in the mid 1990s, we learned early as a family that violence was a way of life in New Orleans. We happened to move during one of the city’s crime waves: Murder was at an all-time high per capita; violent crimes were high. We were instructed by the people who brought us to New Orleans to always be wary and watchful and mindful of our safety. We began to think that way right away. The good part of that is that you are sensible in going out each day. The bad thing is that you assume that this will always be with us. That is a deadly assumption. That is an unhealthy assumption, because it leads to apathy.

Particularly since the post-Katrina years, I have seen the ongoing problem of violence in the community less as a threat and more as a call to action. Increasingly, my church is hearing the need of this community as a summons to action, to get involved in ways in which we have never been involved.

What he would do with a million dollars: I would work toward identifying a neighborhood in need of the presence and ministry of our congregation and what we have to offer. I would work toward putting together a place for that community to gather, with a youth center, with a center for children where they could gather in the afternoon. It would be a safe place for them and a place with all kinds of resources, and it would be open not only on weekdays but on the weekends and it would be well-staffed and it would begin to teach lessons of peacemaking and nonviolence.

I think those lessons arise from an even deeper message: that all of us are loved by the god who made us and who wants only the best for each one of us and sets us free to be all that we were meant to be. I think this basic message, that we are loved and that we are valued, is the primary message that we would want to communicate through this program.

Making things happen: I think the way forward, at least for the men and women who are members of the clergy, would be to build on relationships that are ongoing, that are in fact happening now.

For many years I have had the privilege of going to lunch every month with a rabbi of a reformed synagogue down the street, the rector of a large Episcopal church and the pastor of a Baptist church — and, at various times, we’ve had other clergy in and out. We call ourselves the God Squad and we love getting together and letting our hair down. We work together on projects. We’ve built Habitat houses together, we’ve had worship services together.

We continue to think of things we can do in a collaborative way. But underneath all that is the friendship and trust we have for each other. That’s what works with me always. It’s not something that can just be placed on people, but something that begins one-on-one and grows as friendships are made and strengthened and developed.

Voices on Violence arose as a response to the Mother’s Day second-line parade shootings in New Orleans that injured 20 people. Comprised of one-on-one interviews with a diverse group of residents, the series — a partnership between WWNO and NolaVie — explores why and how people live here, how they assess risk, and what specific things they believe can help change the cycle of violence in New Orleans.

Please join the conversation: send commentary, responses and interview suggestions to voices@nolavie.com.

Renee Peck, editor of NolaVie, worked for 32 years as a feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, earning Associated Press and Press Club of New Orleans awards along the way. She helped launch the first Times-Picayune website in the 1990s, when the Internet was in its infancy. Among her past titles are Food Editor, Entertainment Editor, TV Editor, Assistant Living Editor, and Home and Garden Editor. Her This Mold House column chronicled with humor and inexpertise her rebuilding efforts post-Katrina. Her Big Easy Living column for NolaVie explores the way we live in this always entertaining but sometimes uneasy city. Email her at Renee@nolavie.com.

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