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New Orleans church reopens 'blessed, beautiful' after storm

A jazz band from Sophie Wright Charter Middle School leads worshippers into the renovated sanctuary. A UMNS photo by the Rev. Hadley Edwards. 









By Betty Backstrom*
Nov. 9, 2006 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)

Almost a year and two months after Hurricane Katrina struck, Bethany United Methodist Church rededicated its newly renovated worship center.


Only the exterior walls remain standing after Bethany United Methodist Church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A UMNS file photo by Ginny Underwood. 

During the 2005 storm, the church's sanctuary and buildings sustained almost 11 feet of standing flood water.
"Bethany is back. We're blessed, bigger and beautiful," said the Rev. Hadley Edwards, who led the Oct. 22 service, which also marked the church's 49th anniversary.

An overflow crowd of more than 520 at the service included people from California, Maryland, Arizona, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia who had served on work teams to rebuild the church. 

"God has raised up among us a new extended family inclusive of our brothers and sisters from every city and town across this nation, who provided support during our fight for survival," Edwards said.

The worshippers gathered at 10:45 a.m. under a large tent on the church grounds, then processed into the sanctuary led by the jazz band from Sophie Wright Middle Charter School.


The Rev. Hadley Edwards speaks at the rededication celebration of the newly renovated worship center. A UMNS photo by the Rev. Lawrence Gaines.

"There was so much joy. We were singing, dancing and clapping to the sounds of the instruments. Of course, the jazz band played, 'When the Saints Go Marching In,'" said Edwards, who led the procession with church leaders and staff.

The color red played a prominent role in the celebration. "There were red balloons, flowers, shirts, suits, dresses, ties and hats. The vibrancy and strength of the color symbolized a revived church, a revived people and a restored place of worship," he added.

Anita Crump, longtime member of Bethany and chairperson of the building committee, is proud of the church's efforts.

"I returned to New Orleans on Nov. 2, after the evacuation. As I stood on the church grounds and looked at the devastation, I was tearful. But I knew that if anything could be done, Rev. Edwards, our visionary spiritual leader, could make it happen," she said.

Bethany did not have worship services for seven months after Hurricane Katrina.

"We did, however, have Bible studies and other aspects of ministry until we had our first service on March 19 of this year," Crump said. "On that day, we met in the sanctuary, which had been gutted out. It was very hot due to the lack of electricity, and we used 'portalets' because there were no water services. But it was a joyful reunion; a number of people living away came in just for the day."

Members step forward

When the process of rebuilding began, the issue of finances was a key consideration.  Insurance coverage was limited, and the buildings were essentially destroyed by standing flood waters.


Anita Crump addresses worshipers in the renovated sanctuary of Bethany United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by
the Rev. Hadley Edwards.

"Our members, even those living out of town, really stepped forward. They started giving. Gifts poured in from members who were scattered over 23 states. On one special Sunday alone, the collection totaled $11,000," Crump said. The church has been rebuilt and is debt free, she added.

"Bethany United Methodist Church has even been able to pay above its apportionments, and was able to keep paying the pastor's salary and benefits throughout this entire ordeal. God truly was the power behind the work," Crump said.

Both Crump and Edwards are quick to acknowledge that Bethany could not have done this alone.

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


Bethany United Methodist Church's sanctuary is reopened after undergoing months of renovations following Hurricane Katrina. A UMNS photo by the Rev. Hadley Edwards.

"Our connectionalism provides strength unique to United Methodism, and will serve a critical role in the restoration of storm affected areas," said Edwards, who is serving his 10th year at Bethany.

In the months ahead, renovations to the fellowship hall will be completed. "This space is critically needed for providing outreach ministries to the community as our members and neighbors return to the Pontchartrain Park, Gentilly and New Orleans East communities," he added.

"Katrina brought us to our knees as it relates to the possessions we have accumulated over the years," said Edwards. "The devastation of Hurricane Katrina brought us to uncomfortable places. But in those places, we became more God-centered, power-filled and more aware of our Savior's love and trust. God gave more than Katrina could have ever taken away."

*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


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