|United Methodist leaders find faith
in midst of devastation|
Nov. 2, 2005
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)— On the way to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Canal
Street there is a new landmark in this historic city—a towering mountain of
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin recently said the city has accumulated 7
million cubic feet of trash in the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina.
Scattered among the trash heap are bits and pieces of many of the 79 United
Methodist churches in the New Orleans district that were damaged by the storm.
The Rev. Freddy C. Henderson, district superintendent, said no church was left
untouched and many were destroyed.
A group of United Methodist leaders from the United Methodist Commission on
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and the United Methodist Commission
on Religion and Race toured New Orleans Oct. 29, as part of a pastoral visit to
the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference. The group was also looking for ways
to assist in the healing and rebuilding in the Gulf Coast region.
“Nothing could have prepared me for today,” said the Rev. Chester Jones, top
executive of the Commission on Religion and Race. “To see church after church
just damaged-- almost beyond repair-- and then to see the houses and homes . . .
We have a lot of work to do . . . there is going to be a lot of grief coming out
of here,” he said.
The first stop on the tour was at St. Luke’s United Methodist
Church. The church has been stripped down to the studs on the first floor and
power-washed clean. It is now possible to walk through without being overcome by
the smell of mold and mildew. Even though much work has been done, there are
still questions about whether or not to continue the repairs.
“Of the 126 families that were members here, only 15 are back,” said the Rev.
Don Cottrill, conference provost. “This is a time to let things settle before we
rush back in.”
The question of whether and when families will return to the New Orleans area
is one of many to be considered before rebuilding decisions can be made.
Insurance adjustors are still working on inspecting homes, businesses and
“All the agencies (of the church) have a stake in rebuilding,” said the Rev.
Larry Pickens, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian
Unity and Interreligious Concerns.
Other United Methodist churches visited were Bethany, Trinity and
Julian Jackson was passing by the Cornerstone church when he
noticed water pouring from the side of the building and a crowd gathered
outside. Jackson, president of the United Methodist Men’s group at the church,
is now living in Monroe, La. He was in the neighborhood helping a friend clean
out her home.
“We had a beautiful ministry here,” he said. “It was a diverse church. We
were in the middle of a capital campaign.”
The toll from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is going to be significant for the
Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference, said Bishop William Hutchinson on Sept.
26. More than 90 pastors are without congregations, and the conference will need
to pay their salaries plus a few other basic needs. Destroyed churches cannot
take up collections, he noted.
“In the worst-case scenario, over the next four months, the conference will
need to pay out $1.1 million,” he said. “That is a huge undertaking which the
conference does not have in reserve funds.” If pastors are not able to get
churches rebuilt and their salaries have to be paid in 2006, the cost will rise
to $3.3 million, he said.
Having more than 90 churches unable to pay salaries for their pastors also
means those congregations will be unable to pay apportionments to the
conference, he said. For the rest of 2005, that will mean a $700,000 shortfall,
plus an additional $1.7 million if churches still cannot pay anything in
Jones said he really wanted to come to New Orleans to see for
himself the level of destruction. “Some of these places won’t come back,” he
said. One of his concerns is helping people cope with no longer being able to
attend their home church.
“People have a lot of memories of their church,” he said. “How do we deal
with bringing some kind of closure for those persons who have long histories at
these churches? ”
“I am always amazed at the human spirit and the ability that people have to
bounce back from crisis and tragedy,” Pickens said. “I think with even all the
shells of houses, the mold and the smell and all of the devastation that has
taken place here there is a sense of faith.”
When people are challenged financially, emotionally and physically, the
church becomes even more important, he said.
“I think it is important for folks to know the church is still vital in this
place and that the United Methodist Church is making a difference.”
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville,
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or
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