Sundays are when church doors are supposed to be open. For many area churches, that didn’t happen for a long time after the August 2016 flood. For some, it still hasn’t happened. For at least one, it won’t happen again.
So when all the work is done and a church gets to again hold services, that first Sunday is going to be a celebration. It certainly was when Greater First Church Baptist in Baker gathered in its sanctuary on July 2. For almost 11 months after the flood, its congregation had worshiped at Greater Sixty Aid Baptist Church and Redemption Life Fellowship.
“It was a great homecoming,” said the Rev. Anthony Kelly, the church’s pastor. “It was extraordinary to see the whole premises brand new and just confirms our faith that God just makes it better. Whatever you lose in his name, he gives it back to you a hundredfold and better.”
Some congregations haven’t experienced that.
St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Aletha Drive in Baton Rouge has closed, said Ken Irby, Baton Rouge district superintendent.
“The immediate repairs to the building were just more than they could handle,” Irby said.
At least 20 churches of the Fourth District Baptist Association flooded, said the Rev. René Brown, the district’s executive director and pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church.
And, while the destruction was devastating, some ministers have found the silver lining.
Water flooded all the buildings of the Living Faith Christian Center on Winbourne Avenue, which has spent $1.8 million on repairs so far, said Bishop Raymond Johnson, the church’s pastor. The church returned to its sanctuary two weeks before Easter after relocating to a building that did not flood.
Johnson said the community’s generosity during its recovery was heartwarming, especially coming after protests that followed an officer-involved shooting that killed a black man in north Baton Rouge and the subsequent ambush killing of three local law enforcement officials and the wounding of three others.
“I think across the community, after we had such a very tense time in our city just a few weeks earlier, what the flood did was sort of change the course of the conversation in our area, and it made people realize what was really, really valuable in life,” Johnson said. “Even when you don’t agree on everything, you can work together. In that way, I think we’re better off as far as community getting back to where we want to help each other and not just center on yourselves.”
Oasis Christian Church on East Brookstown Drive had 2 feet of water in its sanctuary, causing $800,000 in damage, said its pastor, Bishop Charles Wallace. Like Johnson, he sees some good that came out of all the destruction.
“A majority of our support came from churches whose pastors don’t look like me, and I thought that was just awesome,” Wallace said. “We peeled off all of our labels and denominations and theological differences and just saw each other as brothers and sisters in need.
“They just stepped it up because of the need, and it really helped us. It just blessed us. I would like to see that same spirit of harmony and fellowship last forever if it could, and I hope it don’t take another tragedy for that to happen.”
Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church on Victoria Drive remains out of its sanctuary. Built with metal studs and plaster walls, the church had trouble finding a contractor capable of doing the restoration, said the Rev. S.C. Dixon, its pastor. So the church has held services at 8 a.m. Sundays at True Light Baptist Church.
“They’ve been allowing use of their facility for almost a year, and, of course, with anything, you don’t want to wear out a welcome,” Dixon said. “You don’t want to indulge on people’s kindness forever. But, thank the Lord, they’ve been very generous to us.”
Dixon told his church on July 23 that a contractor has been hired. If there are no delays getting permits, he hopes to be back in his sanctuary by Christmas.
“It’s been a journey,” he said. "We plan to look back on it and thank God for it because there’s a lesson here somewhere.”
Most churches that flooded last year have restored some or all of their facilities.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denham Springs recently completed renovations on its meetinghouse, which received about 3 feet of water during the flood. There will be an open house from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the meetinghouse on Riverton Avenue and a special rededication service at 3 p.m. Sunday. The public is invited.
All the other area United Methodist churches are back in their buildings, Irby said. Francis Asbury United Methodist Church on Old Hammond Highway has been holding worship services in its fellowship hall and has added showers to its sanctuary building to accommodate disaster relief teams.
That is not the only church to make accommodations for out-of-state teams that continue to come to the area. Stevendale Baptist Church on Old Hammond Highway has brought in a portable building to serve as a dormitory and shower facility for groups helping restore the church’s six buildings, said its pastor, the Rev. Stephen Young.
Stevendale, which lost 90 percent of the contents of its buildings, has work sessions following its Sunday worship services, Young said. Like many churches hit by the flood, most of Stevendale’s members took on water, too.
“Our neighborhoods are still pretty dark at night,” he said. “You can tell there’s not a lot of people back in their homes, yet.”
Stevendale and Park Forest Baptist Church in Baton Rouge and New River Baptist Church in St. Amant are the three area Southern Baptist churches that continue to need significant work, said Chuck Loman, associate director of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge. All four buildings at New River flooded. The church has been worshiping in its Family Life Center, which is 95 percent restored, said Associate Pastor Erik Willie, but the other three buildings, including the sanctuary, have had no work done since they were emptied.
All United Pentecostal Churches that were affected by the flood, are now operating again on a regular basis, District Superintendent Kevin Cox said.
St. Alphonsus Catholic Church on Greenwell Springs Road had to moved its Mass to its Family Life Center but was able to return worship services to the sanctuary on Oct. 15, said JoAnn Stein, the church’s executive director.