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New Orleans-area parish looks to rekindle worship

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Pastors in St. Bernard Parish have taken steps to expand worship opportunities in the New Orleans-area parish where Hurricane Katrina sent floodwaters crashing through their sanctuaries Aug. 29.

Before Katrina, approximately 67,000 people lived in the New Orleans-area parish. Since the storm, the pastors estimated 500 residents have returned to live, but thousands of temporary workers are there. Beginning Feb. 12, Poydras Baptist Church at the lower end of the parish will host one worship service, while another service at the upper end of the parish will be held at a location in Chalmette yet to be determined.

Only First Baptist Chalmette and Delacroix Island Baptist churches have had any type of meetings, but neither in their buildings. The Chalmette congregation meets on Saturday mornings in Baton Rouge at Florida Boulevard Baptist Church, along with others from the parish, in services led by Pastor John Jeffries, with attendance ranging from 20 to 150. Boogie Melerine, the Delacroix leader, is living in the Poydras area and they’re running 15 or more in home meetings.

“What we’re trying to do is get the churches to choose one meeting place and all worship there for the time being, until the population is strong enough to justify opening the other churches,” said Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. “We are trying to be good stewards of what God has given us.”

“If I opened Hopeview Church anytime soon, we’d be so few and so needy that I’d have to spend all my time raising money just to pay our bills,” said pastor Jeffery Friend during a Jan. 17 meeting of St. Bernard pastors, their second since Katrina. “Better to leave it closed and let’s work together until enough people have returned. Let’s put the emphasis on building the people instead of building the churches.”

Danny Decker, the point man for the Missouri Baptist Convention’s partnership with St. Bernard Parish, reiterated the commitment of Missourians to provide support for the work of these pastors. Teams from Missouri are helping to get the buildings at Poydras Baptist ready for services in February, as well as continuing to provide their mobile kitchen to cook meals for the Red Cross to distribute in St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Orleans parishes. To date, Missouri volunteers have cooked more than 600,000 meals and have provided numerous mud-out and chainsaw teams to work in St. Bernard.

St. Bernard Baptist Church called Paul Gregoire as pastor in January 1983. Twenty-three years later, he remains undaunted even though his church was only 100 feet from an oil spill during the storm that deposited a million gallons of petroleum over the parish.

Gregoire not only is trying to find church members spread over numerous states but he is helping students regain some sense of normalcy as the registrar of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, which resumed commuter classes in the city Jan. 23.

“God has told me to rebuild St. Bernard Baptist Church,” Gregoire said. “We started the church from zero…. It doesn’t frighten me to start all over again.”

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  • Keith Manuel