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After Isaac, worshipers were undeterred

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Lack of electricity did not equal a lack of worship in Hurricane Isaac’s wake at many of the Southern Baptist churches across New Orleans Sunday, Sept. 2.

With or without power, the churches gathered to praise God and seek His face during another difficult experience just seven years after Hurricane Katrina.

Like most other area churches, Poydras Baptist Church in St. Bernard Parish (southeast of New Orleans) was without power. After suffering through the relentless hurricane earlier that week, 50 people attended worship that day at Poydras. The group met in the church foyer.

“We sang a few hymns and proclaimed God’s Word,” pastor John Gailey said. “We even had an invitation. We worshiped without electricity, but we had the true Power.”

At least two deacon families from Poydras Baptist Church suffered significant losses. One of the families had to be rescued from a levee after being caught in quickly rising floodwaters. Their house was a total loss. These families and many others are facing a difficult recovery process.

“We’re going to need teams to come in and mud-out, gut-out and rebuild,” Gailey said. “It’s kind of the same thing as with Katrina.”

When pastor Thomas Strong heard that the Metairie Baptist Church building would not have electricity, he considered cancelling services Sept. 2. He knew that many members had not returned from evacuations and others were traveling for the Labor Day holiday.

Then Strong began hearing from church members. They wanted to gather as a congregation, so the church met for worship, fellowship and prayer. The fellowship hall, which has more windows and better air circulation than the sanctuary, served as the meeting space. Fans powered by generators offered a small measure of comfort.

“It was hot — really hot by the time we finished — but no one complained,” said Strong, who also serves as dean of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavell College. “We were just glad to be together as a family to pray, to encourage one another, and most of all to worship — to get our focus right.”

After a time of musical worship, the church members spent time in focused prayer. They prayed for the people in New Orleans and the surrounding region who were impacted by the storm. They also prayed for people in Haiti and Cuba who experienced losses because of Isaac. Strong preached from Psalm 23.

“As we closed the service, I reminded those present that God has given us a great opportunity to be a light shining in the city,” Strong said. “We left with a renewed encouragement and a renewed purpose.”

Strong had approached the service thinking maybe it wasn’t a good idea. He thought, “Is it too much for the people? Will they be better off just staying home? Will anyone come?”

“I left being encouraged and reminded that the Metairie Baptist Church family is a gift to my life through which He encourages me to strive with my all to be faithful to Him,” Strong said.

Across the city at Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans, the congregation gathered at its normal meeting time for worship. Like the meeting at MBC, Edgewater’s service was anything but normal. The members met under the oak trees in the church parking lot because of the power outage. One church member led the congregation in a few songs, and then pastor Chad Gilbert asked people to share Scripture that was especially meaningful during the storm.

“That ended up being a really neat time of sharing and encouraging one another,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert had been preaching a six-week series on the church’s covenant and was scheduled to preach from Matthew 28 about Edgewater’s purpose as a church. In light of the storm, Gilbert considered changing his sermon but decided the planned message was the very thing the congregation needed to hear that Sunday.

“There’s always a reason to deviate from your purpose as the church or from your purpose as the people of God,” Gilbert said. “There seems to always be an interruption that would take us away from making disciples of all nations, but we have to stay the course.

“It was an encouraging message for the church — I hope — being reminded of our purpose as a church in the midst of the storms,” Gilbert said.

Edgewater, whose members invested significant time, effort and resources in Katrina recovery projects, also spent time in prayer for the communities flooded by Isaac’s waters. Gilbert said the church is seeking God’s guidance in where to get involved in Isaac recovery efforts.

At First Baptist Church in New Orleans, services continued despite a lack of electricity. The church even celebrated the Lord’s Supper as planned. To help congregants keep cool, staff members secured a generator to power fans and deacons offered cold bottles of water as people filed into the sanctuary. The overall tone of the service at First Baptist, from the music and preaching to the fellowship, was more celebratory than somber.

Pastor David Crosby preached from the second chapter of Job. He acknowledged that Isaac’s arrival so near the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina stirred many painful memories for the people of New Orleans, but he reminded the church of God’s faithful care during the recovery. From the passage, Crosby encouraged members to keep their integrity before God when disaster strikes a second time.

Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans was one of a few SBC churches in the metro area that had power Sunday. Franklin Avenue, one of the largest SBC churches in Louisiana, is pastored by SBC president Fred Luter.

During Katrina, the Franklin Avenue church building was overcome with floodwaters. With such significant damage, it took two and a half years to restore the building. On this day, services at the restored facility went on as scheduled, with electricity.

Though the Franklin Avenue building had power, many church members did not have electricity in their homes. For those still coping with the heat at home, worship was both physically and spiritually refreshing in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Many other metro New Orleans-area SBC churches braved warm temperatures and no power Sunday. Even some churches with significant damage, like Celebration Church – River Parishes in LaPlace, La., decided to meet together Sept. 2 for worship.
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. With reporting by Frank Michael McCormack. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).