Sunday morning, two of our churches in the devastated area of New Orleans held worship services for the first time since Katrina.
At 9 am, I worshiped with 25 members of Elysian Fields Avenue Baptist Church, meeting in the home of Bob and Linda Jackson, a block behind the church. The area still has no electricity and the Jackson’s home had been gutted down to the bare floor and wall studs. With the temperature outside in the high 40s, everyone bundled up and warmed one another. The Jacksons, now teaching at the seminary, are former missionaries to Africa. “We’re used to this,” Linda laughed. “No building, no heat. This is how we did it for years.” Pastor Ken Taylor welcomed everyone, and with tears in his eyes, brought everyone up to date on the church’s situation.
“It appears that our church buildings will be a total loss,” he told the members. “We had no flood insurance, and we do not know what kind of settlement we’ll get.” He continued, “We’re hoping to be able to build a smaller church, one more suitable to our needs.” With the large sanctuary and a small congregation, they had gone to worshiping in the fellowship hall in recent months.
Interspersed between the spirited worship choruses, members gave testimonies. Paula Stringer told of entering her devastated home and finding paper scattered everywhere. “One page that stood out from the rest,” she said, “contained Psalm 77.” She read some of the Psalm, particularly the final verses, as everyone marveled at their relevance to our situation. “The clouds poured out water, the skies gave forth a sound…the sound of thy thunder was in the whirlwind, the lightnings lit up the world, the earth trembled and shook.” “No one saw your footprints, but you were there,” Paula finished, “You led your people like a flock.”
Pastor Ken invited me to say a few words, after which I left to make the 10 am service at Suburban Baptist Church, some three or four miles further east. I jokingly said if Suburban church was this cold, I might think of a third church to go visit and use that as an excuse to leave early.
Village de l’Est Baptist Church and Pastor Thomas Walters were meeting with Pastor Jeff Box and the Suburban folks today, the first post-K service for either. There must have been a hundred or more in attendance. To my surprise, they had electricity. No gas, so the church’s heaters weren’t working, but one little space heater–and the crowd–warmed up the fellowship hall. The projector flashed an image of a dove in flight on the wall in front, with the words “Welcome Home.” People were hugging and laughing; it was a grand occasion.