Today was our first Wednesday pastors’ gathering at Oak Park Baptist Church in the Algiers section of New Orleans. We began at 10 as advertised, but they straggled in for the first fifteen minutes, until our final number topped out in the early 40s. Bruce Nolan, religion editor for the Times-Picayune, sat among us today for the first time. Monday, it had occurred to me he might be interested in this meeting of pastors, particularly since it has meet weekly since last September and shows hardly any sign of slacking off.
Whoever shows up is the program. Today, that meant Freddie Arnold, Joe Williams, Gary Mitchell, Steve Gahagan, and the usual suspects. What makes it special is that it’s always different. What each one shares is never the same. I often think of the line from I Corinthians 14 that in the early church worship services, one would come with a song, another comes with a message from the Lord, another a testimony, and so on.
Freddie Arnold reported on his meeting last week with all disaster relief workers in Arlington, Texas, his “On Mission Celebration” in Cullman, Alabama, the week before, and another gathering or two along the way he’s attended. Freddie reports to outsiders that the SBC disaster relief teams which descended on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after the hurricane established a high reputation here for integrity, that they helped to create a spiritual environment which enhanced the Billy & Franklin Graham crusades which were so well-attended and so fruitful, and that they provided a ray of hope in a dark, dark situation all across this area. He reported that in last week’s Arlington meeting, a representative of the Internation Mission Board presented a check for $800 from a small group of Muslims from Southeast Asia, men whose areas had been so hurt by the tsunami. For each of the men, their gift represented one month’s income. It is precious in the Lord’s sight and in ours.
In the Arlington meeting, Freddie Arnold was one of several to receive the Distinguished Service Award in DR work. He receives our vote for being awarded the whole shooting match.
Joe Williams continues holding his “Ministry Fatigue Seminars” for our ministers and spouses. “We’ve refined it now to 10 am to 2 pm, including lunch.” He is finding that one aspect of the fatigue of ministers is that they cannot free up large blocks of time to devote to these seminars. Joe said, “We are providing some material for workers with pre-school children in your church,” referring to a stack of books entitled “Helping Children Rebound.”
Gary Mitchell works with bi-vocational and small-church pastors for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. The denominational wide group of which he is a part had planned to hold their 2006 meeting on the campus of our local seminary. After the hurricane, they tried to move the meeting to Covington on the northshore where they found a meeting place, but no hotels. Finally, the Pearl River Baptist Association in McNeill, Mississippi, opened their camp to the group and they will be meeting there the end of this week, and driving down to see New Orleans. Gary said, “We took McKeever up on a recent invitation in his blog to ‘come and see.'” They will overflow the 128 beds the PRBA camp has available, spilling onto floors and into RVs.
Steve Gahagan is the newly-arrived construction manager for Project NOAH, the arm of our North American Mission Board that is setting up to organize the volunteer efforts of thousands over the next two years as they arrive to assist in the rebuilding of this city. Steve used to be a construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity in South Carolina and his wife Dianne has great administrative skills. So Dianne will run the office for NOAH, in a building NAMB provided for their use at nearby Calvary Baptist Church. They’re living in one of the ministerial homes owned by Oak Park. We are so blessed to have NAMB’s direct involvement here, and particularly honored to have Steve and Dianne, workers whom the Lord seems to have prepared for just such leadership roles.
Joe Kay is the interim associate pastor and, as he says, “Minister of Miscellaneous,” at our host church, Oak Park. As he welcomed us and told of the lunch plans, he got everyone’s full attention when he said, “Our church has a 15 passenger 1996 Ford van to give to one of you. It needs a brake job. See me afterwards.” Someone said, “The line forms in the rear of the auditorium.” Sure enough, at lunch, three pastors came by to ask that their name be added to the “van lottery”. Joe took their information and said, “We have a committee on this. I’ll pass it along.”