Coming soon: ‘The Spirit Church’
The Rev. Hadley Edwards stands on a vacant lot in the 7th Ward and sees a church filled with people.
He waves to “Ms. Estelle” Julian, who is sitting on her front porch across the street. “She’s my first church member,” he said.
The Spirit Church, a ministry of The United Methodist Louisiana conference will be Edwards’ first church plant and he is asking all the neighbors to join. Edwards was the New Orleans district superintendent prior to his new appointment and before that was pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church, in the city’s New Orleans district.
Julian is looking forward to the new ministry.
“I need to be in some church, some way. I have 13 grandkids, eight children,” she said, fanning herself with one of Edwards’ red and yellow “push cards,” his version of campaign cards.
One of 17 wards in the city, the 7th Ward hasn’t gotten as much publicity as one of its nearby neighbors, the 9th Ward. But both are low-income neighborhoods wrecked by Hurricane Katrina.
Once home to three United Methodist churches — LaHarpe, St. Phillips and Brooks — the 7th has not had a United Methodist presence in 10 years.
In a bold move, the Louisiana United Methodist Conference appointed Edwards to the entire ward instead of an existing church or structure. And he is just the kind of pastor who can handle that.
“My assignment so far is to plant a new faith community. This is the start of that community,” he said, waving his arms around the vacant lot.
The Louisiana Conference owns the empty corner lot that was once home to a two-story house. The property was a surprise to the conference, since they only learned they owned it when the city sent a warning notice stating they needed to clean up their property or face a fine.
‘A God thing’
“This is more of a God thing than anything. God had this place hidden, tucked away so when the right time came we could burst forth with something new in here,” Edwards said.
Owning the property means Edwards and The United Methodist Church are officially part of the neighborhood association. Edwards has already connected with the association and attended their July meeting.
The Spirit Church will start as an open-air pavilion that will also be a place for the community to use after church hours. Edwards wants to make free Wi-Fi available on the spot. That idea came from meeting a neighborhood boy who said he has no Internet access.
“I think that connection is more than just the connection to the information highway, I think that connection is a connection first of all to Christ,” Edwards said. “I don’t want any walls or any wrought iron bars or stuff, because it closes people out. I want something that allows people to come.”
Edwards is already plugging into the neighborhood by having a “Back to School Bash” Aug. 8 in a neighborhood park. More than 400 people came and children got free school-supply filled backpacks. The event involved United Methodist volunteers from around the New Orleans District.
“The next adventure will be called ‘September Saturday Prayer Walk and Witness,’” he said. “We will offer prayer for people where they are, at their front doors, in the yard, or wherever.”
Edwards also said, “The Lord just laid in my soul” a plan for the 10-year remembrance of Katrina with Holy Communion under a tent at Annette and Law Streets. Stay tuned: He’s still working out the details of where to get a tent and chairs.
The Rev. Hadley Edwards is a United Methodist pastor appointed to the entire 7th Ward in New Orleans. This area once had three United Methodist churches that were all destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The Spirit Church, a ministry of The United Methodist Church, will be Edwards’ first church plant and he is talking to all the neighbors and asking them to join.
The road to Damascus
He imagines the 7th Ward as like the road to Damascus, filled with robbers and thieves.
“There are more murders that happen in this area than anywhere else in the city. Coming here we passed the deadliest mile in the city,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “In these people’s minds, it is normal for murder to happen every day.”
Most people in this neighborhood are Catholic, but the large Catholic church in the area closed. Edwards has his eyes on that property for a future United Methodist Church.
“There is a big closure of a Catholic church, a beautiful structure down the street I wish I could have that, right now it is too large for us and out of our price range. It would be good for that to be the home that we move to from here.”
“Even though this is mostly a Catholic community, everybody I have met has been really welcoming and I don’t think it is going to be any problem whatsoever to meet people and have people join The United Methodist Church,” he said.
“Ms. Estelle” is telling people about the coming church also.
“Lady just asked me ‘What kind of church is it going to be?’ and I had to answer … Spirit Church. Y’all act like it can’t be, you wait and see, getting ready to go that’s all I can tell you.”
Edwards has no doubts.
“I am seeing everyday this is where we need to be. If Jesus was walking the streets of New Orleans today I know this is where he would be.”
Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter in Nashville. Contact her at email@example.com or 615-742-5470.