The first time I saw them was at Rouses -- about 15 of them, cheerful and fresh-faced and pushing carts laden with food like they were on an amazing adventure and not just shopping at the supermarket ....
Lutherans! Gentle, kind, sweet, eager-to-help Lutherans, and they're all over town for their 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering, which they call "Jesus, Justice and Jazz." And the AP reports that their visit marks the biggest convention gathering in New Orleans since Katrina:
"In terms of people, this is the biggest," said Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Previously I think about 25,000 was the most."
Most of the area's 34,000 hotel rooms are full, said Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.
And the young Lutherans have quite an ambitious public works schedule planned:
The Chicago-based denomination has targeted over 200 areas where they will work, said Scott Quillin, who spent the past 14 months researching and setting up the service commitments.
"We're working with something in the neighborhood of 80 different schools in the metropolitan area, working with Habitat for Humanity, parks, churches and neighborhoods. We tried to get as many places as we could where we felt we could make a difference," Quillin said.
This is the first time the Lutheran gathering has been totally devoted to service, he said.
"Our people are required to do service and they want to do it," he said. "We had over 20,000 people sign up right away for service projects."
Much of the work is Katrina-related and ranges from cleaning debris from neighborhoods to building houses, he said.
Have you been running into Lutherans all over town? Any interesting tales