September’s Community Connect article is dedicated to The Very Rev. William “Bill” Terry and his transformational work as Dean of the Downtown Deanery and Rector of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in the Historic Treme Neighborhood of New Orleans. This year, New Orleans celebrates its 300th Anniversary! Founded in 1718, New Orleans boasts some of the oldest neighborhoods in the United States, including Faubourg Treme. The area received its name from Claude Tremé, a French immigrant who settled in New Orleans in 1783. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the neighborhood became recognized as a location where Free People of Color could purchase, acquire and own real estate during a time when most of America was engaged in slavery.
Rev. Bill Terry is a native of New Orleans and the Pastor of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, described as “the neighborhood church.” St. Anna’s was founded on April 19, 1846 and its congregation is known for its “social justice and expression of spirituality.” It was the first “free church” in New Orleans, meaning it did not charge pew fees, and had open seating for all. Like New Orleans, St. Anna’s endured many difficult years and by 1948, the city ordered the old church be dismantled. The current building was completed in 1952 and retains the original pews from 1846, memorial plaques of earlier churches, sacred art and beautiful stained-glass windows.
Father Terry served in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War era. He received an honorable discharge and began studies at Tulane University to obtain a B.A. After several years as a successful commercial insurance underwriter, he was called to ministry. He received a Master of Pastoral Studies degree from Loyola University and a Master of Divinity degree from Nashotah House Seminary in Wisconsin. He was ordained Priest in 2003 and was assigned to St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. Since that time, his church has gained both local and national attention for its progressive values and focus on social justice, continuing its rich history.
Hurricane Katrina not only transformed the Gulf Coast region but also reshaped the mission of St. Anna’s. The church was a rock for residents in the community during the continuous rebuilding efforts. It became a missionary outpost, backed by dozens of national churches, volunteers and support working together to develop programs to face the challenges that arose from a lack of resources throughout the city. The church created five missionary principles that solidify St. Anna’s as one of the most active outreach churches in the U.S., which include St. Anna’s Mobile Medical Mission, Mission to Musicians (M2M), Oportunidades NOLA, Anna’s Arts for Kids and the Murder Board. In February 2007, Father Terry and Decan Clemments, outraged by the city’s murder rate and inspired by the Vietnam Memorial, created a board listing the names, dates, ages and manner of death of all individuals who have been murdered in New Orleans. Currently, the board stands in front of St. Anna’s as a reminder of the value of human life and as a response to urban violence.
Father Terry has been featured on NPR’s State of the Re:Union, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and PBS’s Great Museums of the World. He has also been featured in New Yorker Magazine and in dozens of periodical articles throughout the world from Germany to Australia. Generally, the subject of these writings is focused on urban violence, post-disaster relief efforts and sanctuary programs for migrants. Additionally, he is a certified FEMA Chaplain. St. Anna’s Church and its programs have received many awards, including Non-Profit Innovator of the Year by CityBusiness Magazine, Martin Luther King Jr. Jazz Award, Neighborhoods Partnership Network Trumpet Award for Best Community Church and Blue Cross Foundation of Louisiana Angel Award. Father Terry was most recently featured in Sojourners Magazine. His current goal is twofold: establish an endowed Chair for Community Wellness and Peace and fund a major art installation that recognizes each murder victim in the city. He continues his work restoring the historic Marsaudet-Dodwell House on Esplanade Avenue as a safe place for the community and is always striving to broaden the church’s educational/mentoring outreach to benefit vulnerable children. Father Terry is married with three children and two grandkids. He lives in Meraux with his wife and four dogs of all sizes.
For more information about St. Anna’s Episcopal Church and Father Terry, please visit their website www.stannanola.org.
For the last three years, the Witry Collective has proudly sponsored Treme Fall Festival, which will be held this year October 5th-7th. The donation-based event is produced by the Historic Faubourg Treme Association (HFTA) to support the architecture, culture and history of Treme, as well as combat neighborhood blight and crime. St. Anna’s Church will be participating in the event. For more information, please visit www.neworleans.com/event/treme-fall-fest/3199/