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FIRST-PERSON: The weekly New Orleans pastors’ meeting

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Each Wednesday, pastors/ministers in the New Orleans area have been meeting at First Baptist Church of LaPlace for fellowship and information. Around 50 of us gather there each time, but it’s never the same group.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, a young pastor who serves a non-Southern Baptist church in Kenner addressed the group. “I’ve been in this area for nine years, and I’ve been impressed with the work of Southern Baptists. I know what you believe and it’s the same thing my church stands for. After Katrina hit, I did not see any of my denomination’s people down here at all. The first people on the ground were Southern Baptists, and they’re everywhere, ministering in Jesus’ name. It’s outstanding.

“And I want my church to be a part of that,” the pastor said. “So I am here, officially requesting to join the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Everyone applauded. We may have lost 30 or more churches from the Hurricane Katrina, but we just gained one! (We’ll deal with the details at another time, and explain how one goes about becoming a member church in the SBC.) The pastor brought a laugh of understanding when he added, “I would have been here a couple of years earlier, except I was waiting for one key deacon to go to heaven.”

After the prayer time, our two-and-a-half-hour meeting was jam-packed with one person after another rising to address the group. Disaster relief workers talked about cleanup, building people about permits, and financial people about insurance and loans. One pastor gave a report that Franklin Graham will lead a two-day festival at the New Orleans Arena, next to the Superdome, on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 28 and 29. Another spoke of plans to invite all the “first-responders” to a banquet or barbecue to show them proper appreciation for all they did to secure the city. Others told of the counseling available for those having trouble dealing with this crisis. On and on it went. I felt sorry for Lynn Gehrman, the one who was trying to get it all down in the minutes.

The First Baptist Church of Covington, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, has invited our ministers and spouses to have our Christmas banquet in their facilities as their guests, no charge. We gladly accept and agreed on Monday night Dec. 5.

One of the most heartening things I heard was a simple word about our weekly meetings. A denominational worker told the group how he was serving a church in South Florida years ago when a hurricane did massive devastation. “We did not have weekly gatherings like this,” he said. “Each pastor was pretty much on his own, and it was tough. Within a year, most had bailed out and gone to other places. I want to commend you for getting together like this.”

We started these weekly sessions during the evacuation, the first being Wednesday, Sept. 14, at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., when 20 of us drove from every direction to meet. We’ve not missed a Wednesday since. I have found myself wondering how much good we were doing, looking to the attendance as a clue. But probably the best gauge is that when the meeting is dismissed for lunch at 11:30 sharp, no one leaves. Some are still standing, talking, 30 minutes later, still not having eaten. Something important is taking place here.

One speaker said, “There’s a verse of Scripture that comes to mind: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.'” Everyone nodded. No one told him we’ve heard that verse from Proverbs 27:17 at every meeting, without fail. We keep discovering the truth of our ministry to and dependence on one another.

One of our chief failings in the days before the hurricane was the isolation of our churches and pastors, and the resulting insulation of our church members. But God is showing us a better way. We’ve received so much from God’s people from one end of the country to the other and even beyond, none of us will ever brag again about our independence. We are so dependent on the Lord and so inter-dependent with each other, we’ve found a far superior way to live and minister.

No one knows yet what our churches in the new New Orleans will look like. But we are determined to be part of a new Team of God, partners with one another and with all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have received so much from so many. We will be eternally in debt. Which is just fine, because a wise man once said, “No one unwilling to be eternally in debt can ever be a disciple of the Lord Jesus.”
Adapted from a weblog by Joe McKeever (www.joemckeever.com), director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

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  • Joe McKeever