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Our churches, 2 years later

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following report was prepared by Joe McKeever, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, for the Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana. Used by permission.

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Before Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans could count some 140 churches and missions. One month later, when we re-entered the area, we were able to identify 35 still operating. Today, two years after this life-changing event, we’re up to 94.

“So, are your churches back to normal and operating?” is the question I field most often. The answer is, “Some are. Some are doing great. Some are gone forever. Some are meeting in someone’s living room or in someone else’s buildings. But all have been affected deeply and are changed forever.”

Most of the churches we lost were small congregations or young missions. When the floodwaters devastated their neighborhoods and ruined their buildings, thus scattering their members, the smaller and more vulnerable congregations quickly ceased to exist. Only the stronger ones managed to pull enough of the scattered members back together to resume services in one form or another.

In many respects, the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans is a microcosm of the Southern Baptist Convention. We have churches in every category you can think of — displaced, struggling, normal and flourishing. Most of the stronger, more successful congregations are those that moved quickly after the storm to establish ministry in their neighborhoods.

By “displaced,” we mean those that are no longer able to meet in their original buildings. These include Franklin Avenue Baptist Church which meets at First Baptist Church in New Orleans; First Baptist Chalmette and St. Bernard Baptist which meet together at the local high school; Free Mission which meets at the Baptist association’s center; New Vision which meets with FBC Luling and Good News with FBC Destrehan; and some meeting in homes, such as One Faith, Canal Boulevard Deaf and Faithful Community.

Freddie Arnold, our associate director of missions and NAMB church planter missionary, and I sat down recently and went over the entire list of churches and missions, assigning them to the various categories to the best of our knowledge. As with any church, conditions change frequently, but this is the situation as we know it at the moment.

While every one of our churches lost members after the hurricane, with large numbers of key leaders departing from some congregations, some are struggling more than others. In the “Struggling” category, we list Shiloh, St. Rose FBC, United FBC, Valence Street, Allen Temple, Beacon, New Salem, Christian Light, Cosmopolitan, Epiphany, Hahnville, Noah’s Ark, Berachah Haitian, Solid Rock, Genesis, Airline, Bridge City, Carrollton Avenue, Calvary Korean, Christian Fellowship, Gentilly/Elysian Fields, Getsemani Spanish, Good News, Memorial, New Testament, New Vision, Norco FBC, Pontchartrain, Port Sulphur, Edgewater, Rio Vista, Urban Family and Evangelistic.

In the category we call “Flourishing — but with issues,” which means they are doing well but in many cases continue to work on their buildings or have had a large turnover of leadership, we list Celebration, Williams Boulevard, Good Shepherd Spanish, Haitian FBC, Spanish American FBC, Vietnamese FBC, Westwego, New Covenant, Delacroix Hope, Poydras and Horeb Spanish. We also place a new startup church called Sojourn in this group.

The “Normal” churches — those which lost members and may have had some hurricane damage but are carrying on well — include New Orleans FBC, Metairie, Kenner FBC, Calvary, Vieux Carre, Riverside, Suburban, Waggaman, West Marrero, Deliverance, Living Water, Loving Four, Ebenezer Spanish, El Camino Spanish, Korean FBC, La Vina Spanish, Nueva Vida, New Hope, Chinese FBC, Christ, Crossroads, Destrehan FBC, Grace, Highland, Irish Channel, Korean Agape, Lakeside, Parkview, Emmanuel Spanish, LaPlace FBC, Luling FBC, West St. Charles, Belle Chasse FBC, Ames Boulevard, Avondale FBC, Barataria, Marrero FBC and Oak Park.

Four of our smaller congregations are struggling with the loss of members and the remaining members being older, thus facing difficult decisions about their future: Faith, Lakeview, Gretna FBC and Bridgedale.

At our pastors meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 22, one week before the second anniversary of Katrina, we asked church representatives present to give us reports on their congregations.

New Orleans FBC is running 450. The church is leading out in the Baptist Crossroads ministry of building 60 new homes a year in the 9th Ward. David Crosby, pastor.

Gentilly Baptist Church (merged with Elysian Fields) is running about 50 in attendance and has started two new women’s Bible studies. Ken Taylor is the pastor.

Celebration is running 1,800-1,900 and hit 2,486 for its “back-to-school” Sunday. They are still rebuilding the flooded Airline campus. Celebration also has campuses in St. Bernard on the former site of FBC Arabi and in LaPlace at the former Woodland Baptist Church. Dennis Watson, pastor.

Kenner FBC has just called Mark Tolbert as interim pastor and is running 350. One profession of faith in mid-August.

Hahnville runs 30 on Sundays and had 25 professions of faith recently when a visiting church team witnessed in the community. Anthony Bellow, pastor.

Good News runs 35 to 40 and is constructing a new building in the 8th Ward. Oscar Williams, pastor.

Grace runs 40 and baptized a teenager recently. Charlie Dale, pastor.

Suburban runs 75-80 and is hosting a startup for a new Vietnamese mission. Jeffery Friend, pastor.

Urban Family runs 17 and meets with Valence Street Baptist. They own a ministry building in the 9th Ward from which they reach out. Kemp Johnson, pastor.

Delacroix Hope averages 70 and is restoring the Creedmore Presbyterian Church building which was donated for their use. James Melerine, pastor.

Gretna FBC runs 50 and is retraining their leadership. Wayne Scholle is the interim pastor.

New Covenant runs 50 and has baptized 14 since March. Thomas Glover, pastor.

Barataria is running 80 and gearing up for a major outreach event in November. Eddie Painter, pastor.

Chinese FBC is running 120. Hong Fu Liu, pastor.

One Faith meets in a home on Wednesday nights and runs 25. Pastor Jerry Darby lives in Alvin, Texas, and pastors a church there.

Epiphany meets in the former campus of Village de L’est and runs 45. Lawrence Armour, pastor.

Deliverance meets in their own building and runs about 125. They’re having extraordinary growth. Jessie Magee, pastor.

Edgewater is running 80, meeting in their fellowship hall. They are presently without a pastor.

Memorial runs 40, also in their fellowship hall. Jackie Gestes, pastor.

Shiloh is running 60 with their new pastor Michael Raymond, who lost his church in the lower 9th Ward.

Two buildings formerly used by Hopeview in St. Bernard and by Lake Forest in New Orleans East have been turned into facilities for the rebuilding work of our city. Hopeview can host up to 150 people per night and is now the NAMB site for church teams coming to work here. Lake Forest’s buildings are used for storage of materials.

At every opportunity, we urge people to keep praying for the rebuilding of New Orleans and the restoration of our churches to a “new normal.” We have no wish and no plans to return to the level of dedication, involvement, effectiveness of pre-Katrina days. We believe and urge our friends to believe with us that God has big plans for His people called to live and serve in this city.

A verse we keep returning to is something God told Israel in Babylon during the days of their exile: “Work for the welfare of the city where I have sent you … and pray on its behalf. For, as it prospers, you will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).

    About the Author

  • Joe McKeever