A sabbatical in New Orleans

 on June 4, 2024

Alastair Hunting, incumbent at St John the Divine, Courtenay, shares his experience on an extended educational leave in New Orleans. 

Alastair Hunting (left) with Ren, a staff member from the Harry Thompson Centre, New Orleans. Image courtesy of Alastair Hunting.

This past winter I went on an extended education leave to New Orleans, Louisiana. Br. Bill Tartar from Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria put me in touch with a Franciscan brother Br. Donald Dubay, who is a professed member of the Community of Francis and Clare in New Orleans. I was able to immerse myself in some of the ministries that Br. Donald is part of and do some hands-on learning. My time with Br. Donald provided me an opportunity to witness the good work that he and the Episcopal church are carrying out in the city. It was also a time to take a step back from parish ministry in the Comox Valley to pray, study and refresh. I was there for carnival and Mardi Gras and I was able to dive into the celebrations, parades and energy of the city.

Br. Donald put me in touch with the Harry Thompson Centre, where I was able to volunteer. Located in the centre of New Orleans, the Harry Thompson Centre is a low-barrier day shelter providing hospitality, showers, health care and housing navigation services to the unhoused community of New Orleans. My role there was to help with the delivery of services to the guests and to be a pastoral presence. A lot of my time at the Harry Thompson Centre was spent building friendships by playing chess, checkers and dominoes. This gave me the chance to listen to people’s stories and pray with them when the opportunity allowed.


During my time in New Orleans, I attended St Anna’s Episcopal Church on Sunday mornings. St Anna’s is an Anglo-Catholic parish whose mission statement is “All are welcomed. None are shunned.” They’re practising what they preach. The parish is located in the historic Tremé neighborhood of the city, which is one of the oldest African American neighbourhoods in America. They are involved in a vibrant food ministry, which supports local food banks and provides meals after every Sunday service.

My first Sunday worshipping at St Anna’s, Fr. Don (interim priest at St Anna’s), Br. Donald and I were invited to go to the Friendly Bar after church. The Friendly Bar is a long-time, established gay bar close to St Anna’s. During football season they have what they call “Saints Sundays.” The Saints are a local NFL football team. The bar offers a potluck during the game, where people can donate money in a jar. All the money they raise goes to support St Anna’s food ministry. Fr. Don shared his gratitude to the bar manager and customers for their generosity. This football season they raised over $3000! I was blown away by this unique and “unexpected” partnership in ministry. I stayed around for the game (the Saints beat their rivals the Atlanta Falcons but still narrowly missed the playoffs), ate a lot of good food and chatted with some amazing folks.

Through St Anna’s I was able to connect with David, one of the parishioners who helps to run the New Orleans branch of ACORN International, which advocates for affordable housing and tenant’s rights. I was able to take part in their work by supporting a family facing eviction for speaking out against their slumlord, who wasn’t dealing with a major mould problem in their apartment. Due to the pressure that ACORN placed on the landlord, the family were able to receive monetary compensation from the landlord and find a better place to live.

All in all this was a highly transformational and refreshing experience for me. It broadened my horizons. I’m grateful to my parish in Courtenay (St John the Divine) for their support, as well as the bishop and the Educational Trusts Board for their encouragement in helping to fund my time in the Crescent City.

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