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Baptismal waters bless post-Katrina church

 
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1:00 P.M. EST Aug. 31, 2010 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)

The Rev. Hadley Edwards of Bethany United Methodist Church in New Orleans leads a service of remembrance five years after Hurricane Katrina hit the city. A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
The Rev. Hadley Edwards of Bethany United Methodist Church in New Orleans leads a service of remembrance five years after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.
A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
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A cloudy sky and blustery breezes greeted worshippers gathering Aug. 29 at Bethany United Methodist Church, a scene eerily reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina’s approach five years ago.

“Five years ago, we were running for our lives. We were running from a storm on a Sunday morning,” said the Rev. Hadley Edwards, pastor of the New Orleans church that was destroyed by nearly 11 feet of standing floodwater after Katrina struck.

On this Sunday, worshippers at Bethany and in many churches across the region gave thanks for people all over the country who welcomed nearly 1 million evacuees from the Greater New Orleans area.

“We are thankful for those who embraced us, who opened their homes and their arenas to shelter us. We are thankful for every meal, every blanket and every pillow that was given to us by the hands of people who opened their hearts to us,” Edwards said.

Most of all, as they prayed in their renovated worship center, Bethany members praised God.

“We have rebuilt our church, and God truly was the power behind our success,” said Anita Crump.

The connection steps up

The church did not have worship services for seven months after Hurricane Katrina. However, Bible studies and other ministries went on, said Crump, church member and past lay leader for the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference.  

Church member Anita Crump checks the progress of flood repairs in 2006. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
Church member Anita Crump checks the progress of flood repairs in 2006. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
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When they resumed worship, Crump said, “We met in the sanctuary which had been gutted. It was very hot due to the lack of electricity, and we used portable toilets because there were no water services. But it was a joyful reunion. A number of people living away came in just for the day.”

Finances were a major obstacle. Insurance coverage was limited, and the buildings were essentially ruined.

“Our members, even those living out of town, really stepped forward. Gifts poured in from members scattered over 23 states. On one special Sunday alone, the collection totaled $11,000,” Crump said.

And they had a lot of help from their friends throughout The United Methodist Church.

“The United Methodist connection really works,” Edwards said. “Churches throughout the United States partnered with us to get the work done. They sent work teams, money, supplies, Bibles, crosses and much more. Our connection provides strength.”

A spiritual anchor

Sharon McNeil, a Bethany member for more than 50 years, was a patient at Pendleton Memorial Methodist Hospital when Katrina hit.

“We assumed that the hurricane was going to be another one of ‘those storms.’ I wanted to stay at the hospital, but my friend convinced me to leave with her family,” McNeil said. “Twenty-two hours after we left, we arrived in Houston. From New Orleans, that is usually a six-hour drive.”

Life after Katrina hasn’t been easy for McNeil. She lost her home in the flood and struggles with health problems, receiving dialysis twice a week.

Yet the church has never left her side.

A flood-damaged home stands two buildings away from Bethany United Methodist Church (right). A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
A flood-damaged home stands two buildings away from Bethany United Methodist Church (right).
A UMNS photo by Betty Backstrom.
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“All of the stress has had a negative effect on my health. I’ve gotten depressed at times. But my Bethany family has gotten me through it all. They mean all the world to me.”

The recovery continues

Life is not the same in the area around Bethany.

“Just a walk down the street reminds us that our neighborhood has changed so much. Many members have not been able to return to their homes, or they died trying to get back home,” Edwards said. “In many ways, Bethany and other United Methodist churches are a light on a darkened pathway. We are serving as an anchor to those still struggling in their own personal storms of rebuilding and restoring.”

As the congregation sang the refrain from “Wade in the Water” at the end of Sunday’s service, Edwards scooped water from a baptismal font to bless them as they came toward the altar.

He reminded worshippers that water was “flowing” as New Orleans flooded, as storm survivors shed tears and as Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John.

“It is with blessed water that we make a witness to a broken world,” he said. “God has troubled the water, and his blessings are flowing full and free.”

*Backstrom is director of communications for the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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