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United Methodist leaders seek ways to help in Louisiana

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

United Methodist leaders meet with Louisiana religious leaders to discuss ways to help in the hurricane recovery.
Nov. 2, 2005

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) - The shiny new neighborhood is flat, dusty and cramped. On the freshly scrapped ground are rows of white trailers stretched out in neat rows as far as the eye can see.

What is missing are trees, green grass, playgrounds, easy access to everyday essentials such as a grocery store or any other form of what makes a neighborhood comfortable.

"If you want to know what we need, it is housing, housing, housing," said Becky Reiners, representative of the Catholic Community Services, speaking to officials from the United Methodist Church who came to the state looking for ways to help in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, top executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; Clare Chapman, Donald Hayashi and the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, members of his staff; and the Rev. Chester Jones, top executive with the Commission on Religion and Race, met with Louisiana religious leaders Oct. 28.

"We are aware of the issues of race and class which bubbled up as reality and we want to expose ourselves to the stories," Pickens told the group. "We want to think in terms of how to respond ecumenically."

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

FEMA has set up trailer communities in one of the smaller rural areas outside Baton Rouge for hurricane evacuees.
FEMA has set up trailer communities in one of the smaller rural areas outside Baton Rouge for evacuees from the hurricanes. "These trailers are not a true long-term option," said Nakeisha Robertson, a representative of Louisiana Interfaiths Together, a statewide program that is part of the PICO National Network. "Evacuees are being put into places without true public transportation and not enough resources to sustain them."

"The truth is, urban people don't like living in trailer parks," added the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, Lutheran Church of Our Saviour, Baton Rouge, La. Most of the thousands living in these trailer parks are from New Orleans.

Creative and respectful ways to respond to the newest residents in Baton Rouge and surrounding cities was a concern expressed by all the leaders. "Baton Rouge inherited the poor people of New Orleans," Reiners said. "We need to be creative in how we house people coming to us and to do it in an appropriate, respectful way."

The Louisiana religious leaders expressed frustration and fatigue but also a passion for the new residents in their cities. Baton Rouge's population has increased by 200,000, a growth rate that would normally take 15 years to occur. Other parishes around the state have had similar population explosions.

Schools are overflowing, roads are clogged, stores are packed and city services are overwhelmed.

"We are in need of your prayers," said the Rev. Jeff Day, representative of the Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues.

The Rev. Dan Krutz, a representative of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, told the United Methodists that their presence was needed and welcomed.

"We are so grateful you came, your feedback is very important," Krutz said. "The clarity from those outside the state is helpful. The United Methodist Church should see their members here as an investment that will constantly need to be reinvested in."

Pickens raised the question, "How can we all be represented at the table when rebuilding begins?"

"We don't have a clear picture of that yet but we need to keep the question open," responded Krutz. "Decisions are being made and often those making decisions are secretive and devilish."

The Rev. Herman Kelly, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, said churches have been on the frontlines in responding to the tragedy and churches need to be watchful of what decisions are being made.

"God is holding us accountable," he said.

The Rev. Francis Williams, pastor of Butler's African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Amite, La., said his heart breaks for the thousands who have lost everything.

"We shouldn't be able to sleep in our comfortable homes and beds until everyone is back in a comfortable home."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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

2005 Hurricane Response: United Methodist Committee on Relief

Audio Interviews

The Rev. Larry Pickens: "We don't have to work alone."

The Rev. Chester Jones: "Nothing could have prepared me."

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Louisiana Annual Conference

Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns

Commission on Religion and Race

Churches in New Orleans District