I wonder sometimes about our Wednesday pastors meeting, if they have outlived their usefulness, and then the Lord says otherwise in no uncertain terms.
We might have begun our weekly meeting with 10 people today, but they kept coming in and we ended up with around 25. In the course of the sharing, two pastors volunteered how much these weekly sessions mean to them. One said, “I always know you are going to be here. You have no idea how much that means.”
He has no idea how much his words encouraged us. We have 92 churches and missions operating now, and most of our pastors are either knee-deep shepherding their flocks and don’t have time to come to these gatherings or they have second jobs and can’t get off. Either that, or they’re in seminary. But when I’m tempted to think of 25 as a small turnout, I recall that in the pre-Katrina years, that would be a good turnout for our monthly pastors conferences.
A few highlights here. If you want the entire rundown of our Wednesday meeting, this week or any week, go to our associational website www.bagnola.org. Lynn Gehrmann takes notes of the proceedings and posts them there by mid-afternoon.
“We’re prayer-walking this Saturday,” said David Rhymes. A number of folks from outside this area will arrive at the Baptist Center here at 8:30 am Saturday. Within an hour, they will disperse into a number of neighborhoods where pastors have requested prayer-walkers, and return to the center in time for lunch and a report time. We’ll be doing six sessions in 2007. You’re invited.
One of our pastors whose church disappeared from the earth has been meeting with his re-gathered people in his section of St. Bernard Parish. Today he reported that the local Presbyterian church–which had fallen onto hard times before Katrina and whose congregation since the hurricane might be a half-dozen hearty souls–is close to turning over the property to his congregation to move in and use for an indefinite period of time.
“What’s wonderful about that,” he told the group, “is that at first we tried to purchase the property, and they wouldn’t sell it. Then we tried to lease it, and they turned that down. Now, they’re using the money they got from Bush-Clinton to restore the facility and then they’re going to give it to us.” It’s a God-thing.
Jennifer Garner of the Carver Center introduced her guest, Erica–whose last name I missed–who will be working with her two years. Erica is from Holt, Florida, in the Panhandle and arrived here in January. I asked if her parents were worried about their darling moving to New Orleans. She said, “They were here this weekend to check on me.” She laughed and said, “Not a good weekend. Mardi Gras, and all.” What does she do at the Center? “We have an after-school program for neighborhood children,” she said, “and I prayer-walk two afternoons a week in the Magazine Street area.” She goes into the stores and shops and is building relationships.
Cipriano Stephens of Valence Street Baptist Church on Magazine Street reported that their day care is up and running, and that they have a contractor who is supposed to restore the bell tower which was so damaged in the hurricane. It’s still cloaked in the once-ubiquitous blue tarp. Freddie Arnold suggested he get a lawyer to vet the contract with the contractor. There are so many shady operations in this city these days.
Case in point. Pastor Anthony Pierce and his wife used to live in the family home (translation: it belonged to her parents while they were alive, and is still in their names) in the neighborhood of the old Baptist Hospital. The house took deep floodwater and has not been gutted out or rebuilt. Freddie Arnold volunteered to go by this afternoon and take a look and advise him. Anthony said, “I don’t want to be the first one on my block restoring my house, because it becomes a target for thieves. They’ll take everything–air conditioners, outside piping, everything.” When I said, “Who would do this?” he said, “Unscrupulous contractors.”
Three of our Hispanic pastors reported together. Manuel Ponce’ (speaking Spanish with Gonzalo Rodriguez interpreting) told how his church (El Calvario) is baptizing eight people this Sunday. As everyone registered excitement, I said, “Gonzalo, what’s Spanish for ‘amen’?” He said, “Amen.” That got a laugh.
Gonzalo’s Good Shepherd (El Buen Pastor) Church in Metairie has a big problem: they’ve run out of space. They’ve bought three nearby homes and are renovating them for use by the church.
Thomas Lowrie (a gringo like me) pastors El Camino church in Metairie. (He said, “I became a Hispanic pastor when I married a Hispanic lady!”) They’ve been hard at work securing a better location and have found one and have the money to make a substantial down payment. Problem is, lenders are drying up. He can’t find anyone to lend them the rest of the money. We gathered around Thomas for a season of prayer, asking the Lord to provide for these dear brethren.
I was struck by something that happened during the prayer time. Several people were praying, and each was a precious prayer. Then one pastor in particular began to knock on Heaven’s door, voicing a strong prayer of faith in such clear uncertain tones and solid faith that one felt there was nothing further to be said, that this one said it all.
Sometimes we bore Heaven and nag God in our prayers. Then someone comes along and prays a prayer of confident faith and everything inside you sits up and announces, “So! That’s how we were meant to pray about these things! Yes!”
We’re frequently asking our readers to pray for New Orleans. Those prayers were never more needed than right now when this city’s future is still so uncertain. But let me emphasize: we want prayers of faith, please.
The last word will belong to Pastor Cornelius Tilton, leader of the Irish Channel Christian Fellowship and a new staff-member of Dennis Watson’s Celebration Church. “People ask me about stress. I tell them, ‘I don’t know stress! It’s against my religion! They ask, ‘What is your religion?’ And I tell them, ‘Jesus!'”