I have a very soft spot in my heart for the community of Cairo and the Church of the Redeemer there. In terms of blight and devastation, Cairo is a microcosm of Detroit and East St Louis … on steroids. It was once a thriving center of river commerce, situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was considered so strategically important by President Lincoln that he sent Union troops there to secure it against Confederate sympathizers among the local populace; as the crow flies, Cairo is closer to New Orleans than to Chicago! Now, the downtown is abandoned, with sinkholes in the streets. East census records more lost population. The majority of those who live there are in poverty, and there is practically no tax base; even the Alexander County sheriff had his rolling stock repossessed for inability to make payments. Real estate is essentially non-marketable. There isn’t even a McDonald’s because the labor pool is considered inadequate.
Redeemer is arguably one of the more beautiful church buildings in the diocese, redolent of more prosperous days when a solid Angl0-Catholic piety took root there and flourished. There is only one completely reliable Episcopalian communicant remaining, along with about seven others who are hit and miss. They worship with a handful of Lutherans in whose building the air-conditioner no longer works, so they are at Redeemer every Sunday during the summer. So there were 18 in the room this morning for the Eucharist, including YFNB, their regular supply priest, his wife, and the Lutheran lay minister from Paducah, KY who takes care of them on the off weeks. One of those was a toddler who was baptized earlier this year–the first baptism at Redeemer since 1997.
I don’t have a magic bullet for those people and that church. I tried to bring them a word of hope this morning, even as Jesus brought a word of hope to “the country of the Gerasenes” by ministering powerfully to the man who hosted a pack of demons who, through him, held the whole town hostage. Please hold Cairo and Redeemer (and the people of Emmanuel Lutheran) tightly in your prayers.