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'Shards ministry' transforms

Shannon Mangum salvages shards - and crafts them into something that transcends disasters.

BY SUSAN KIM | NEW ORLEANS | July 15, 2006


"The symbolism of pieces being made into something new is a perfect metaphor for both the strength and power of a loving community, and the transformation that occurs when we are allowed to be broken and then reformed through faith"

—Shannon Mangum


Shannon Mangum salvages shards - and crafts them into something that transcends disasters.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, she was helping to clean a friend's severely damaged home. "My friend was interested in getting only one piece out - an antique cabinet that belonged to her mom. We got it and it was perfectly okay."

Then some beautiful - but, sadly, broken - dishes caught Mangum's eye.

"They were cream and turquoise china from occupied Germany," she remembers. And she simply couldn't let them go.

"As I walked around there were broken dishes, figurines, collectables that were so beautiful that I could not leave them," she remembers. "I asked if I could collect them and promised to return them to her later."

That day, the "Ministry of the Shards" was born for the greater New Orleans area. Since then, Mangum has been crafting crosses and mirrors for volunteers and homeowners: the people who have been painfully picking up what's broken.

As volunteer groups flock to Mangum's home church - Grace Disciples of Christ in the Covington/Mandeville area of Louisiana - they help repair homes. Then they leave with a six-inch cross made from shards pulled from the same homes.

"These crosses are made out of broken china and 'what-nots' that have been retrieved from the homes that we have gutted," explained Mangum. "Each cross includes pieces of china from the various regions of the city that we work in."

For the homeowners, Mangum crafts mirrors. "Their mirrors have many pieces from their home but also, like the crosses, pieces from other areas," she said. "I have always loved to do collage and this was a new medium to use."

Sometimes homeowners attend the church's weekly Thursday dinner fellowship, where they receive their mirrors and meet the church members who have been involved in the cleanup and recovery. "If we are really lucky, the family comes to eat dinner with us during our Thursday meal and we can present them at that time," said Mangum.

As she watches people receive their crosses and mirrors, Mangum has come to realize that these are not just pleasant objects but deep symbols of recovery. "The symbolism of pieces being made into something new is a perfect metaphor for both the strength and power of a loving community, and the transformation that occurs when we are allowed to be broken and then reformed through faith," she said.

In some ways, possessing an object from the shards allows people to move forward in their recovery, she reflected - including her.

"It's probably saved my own mental health," she said. "Very weirdly enough, I know where most of it comes from. I have a whole system down of sorting them and washing them. So I can say: this is where this is from."

Mangum has learned a lot about china - and now she's tracing patterns to certain sections of New Orleans.

The shards cross racial lines and economic lines in ways she never believed possible. "These neighborhoods - even though we have all this racial stuff - these have always been blended neighborhoods. And these neighborhoods have different kinds of china that seem to symbolically draw them together. I mean, there's a whole section of Gentilly that has Japanese made tiles - a whole six block area. It's so bizarre."

Mangum wonders how so many disconnected households ended up with the same china pattern. "There is some story behind this. Wouldn't that be a great project for someone to trace these patterns, and see the wave of similarities in seemingly disparate neighborhoods?"

The Grace Disciples of Christ Church has gutted more than 100 homes in the following New Orleans areas: Chalmette, New Orleans East, Gentilly, Lower Ninth Ward, Lakeview, Slidell and Mandeville.

But the crosses and mirrors have touched even more people. "I have not counted," admitted Mangum. "I know we have gutted around 100 homes. I have also given crosses to people that we have not gutted their home but they have lost their home."

Though the church has been the driving force behind the "Ministry of the Shards," Mangum has involved other parts of her community as well. A teacher at the in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Louisiana State University's Health Sciences Center, Mangum caught the interest of graduate students and neighbors as well.

"My students did not have a full schedule because we didn't have rooms for them," she said, "and so many of them have helped gut homes."

The crosses and the mirrors capture a visual form of the scene greeting volunteers and homeowners alike, said Mangum.

Without volunteers out gutting homes, many residents would never have started their recovery in the first place, she reflected.

"Many individuals and families would still be in limbo with no strength or energy to move forward," she said.

But recovery is happening, shard by shard, she concluded: "We have had continuous groups of people come through our church since a week after Katrina."


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