|Churches rebuild, recreate ministries in Louisiana|
A wind-torn tarp flaps over the open roof at Felicity United Methodist Church, one of five United Methodist churches in New Orleans that have been decommissioned as a result of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent population shifts.
UMNS file photos by Mike DuBose.
By Betty Backstrom*
Aug. 28, 2007 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)
Forty-seven United Methodist churches in the Greater New Orleans area and three churches in Cameron Parish stand at different stages of recovery and ministry nearly two years after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina devastated the coastline of Louisiana.
While not all of the 50 church buildings in the Louisiana United Methodist Conference Mission Zone were damaged, "without a doubt, all of the congregations' ministries were affected," said the Rev. Martha Orphe, director of the mission zone.
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference created the mission zone to focus on special needs and ministries.
"We know all too well that the church is not the buildings. … The church is the people," Orphe said, noting that some badly damaged churches have been rebuilt and are coming back with determination.
One example is Hartzell United Methodist Church, located in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and now serving as an outreach center.
Anthony Alfred, a trustee at Hartzell Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Slidell,
La., surveys flood damage to the
sanctuary a month after Katrina hit on
Aug. 29, 2005.
"Despite the fact that the church is centered in one of the city’s worst areas of devastation, the building and sanctuary have been restored," she said. "Side rooms now hold bunk beds to house volunteers on site. We also have staff working in collaboration with the local school to provide a summer program for area children."
The church has established a computer lab for the community since most residents continue to live in FEMA trailers and have no access to Internet service.
Ministries for hurting people
Orphe said United Methodist churches are ministering to people with every imaginable need.
"We are highly concerned about depression and post-tramautic stress syndrome and the need for emotional, physical and spiritual healing. As the church, we give hope and tangible services to a hurting people."
Churches that did not suffer as much physical damage started worship services shortly after the hurricanes, but not without struggles of their own.
The Rev. Darryl Tate walks through his mud-encrusted yard during his first visit to the New Orleans parsonage of St. Luke's United Methodist Church after fleeing Hurricane Katrina the previous month.
"These churches have worked overtime, offering ministries to suffering people across the city," said Orphe. "In these congregations, there was an initial loss of membership due to the diaspora. And even now, after the return of some membership, we are experiencing second and third waves of evacuations after people returned and decided they could not stay."
Church mergers are playing a role in determining the future of The United Methodist Church in New Orleans.
"In some cases, churches were struggling before the storm. So we have asked congregations to discern how they might serve the kingdom of God by merging with another congregation, combining their resources and membership," said Orphe.
Meeting the needs of Hispanic residents in New Orleans is a top priority for the conference. In addition to the Hispanic ministry at El Messias United Methodist Church, two more centers will offer services in areas with high concentrations of Spanish-speaking residents.
In the two years since Katrina, a total of five churches in New Orleans have been decommissioned. They include Trinity Gentilly, Napoleon, Felicity, John Wesley and St. Philip United Methodist Churches.
First Street PW, St. Luke’s, Bethany and First United Methodist churches have been designated as anchor churches in the mission zone. "These churches are receiving designated funds to strengthen their ministries in the very areas which are repopulating or are projected to repopulate the fastest in the city," Orphe said.
Latonja Tucker paints an exterior wall at Bethany United Methodist Church after floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina damaged the New Orleans church.
Every church building that was heavily damaged has been gutted, cleaned and secured. "But not every church will return as a worshipping congregation. Things are constantly evolving, and after another year of exploration and discernment, we have a clearer picture on things," she said.
Orphe encourages districts and local churches to consider becoming a partner church. Congregations can join 162 other churches and become a special partner with a church or group of churches in Cameron Parish or the Greater New Orleans Area Church Partnership Program. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We know water, storms, hurricanes and tornadoes came and brought us despair and devastation," said Orphe. "But we also know that our United Methodist brothers and sisters bring us God’s hope."
*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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