Though church buildings are shattered and members are scattered, for local ministers Sunday services weren't only a time for sorrow. It was also a time to recognize that with the help of God and each other, those who lost everything in the flood will get through it.
Even the churches, as undamaged sanctuaries opened their doors to those whose pews were washed away by the water. And at one shelter, several ministers spoke, calling God a rescuer and a refuge.
The Rev. Anthony Kelley of Greater First Church Baptist in Baker brought a message of hope to members of his destroyed church in a borrowed sanctuary.
“We may be displaced, but we’re not dismayed,” Kelley preached in his sermon at Greater Sixty Aid Baptist Church, which made its facilities available after the Baker church was flooded last weekend. “We may be down, but we’re not defeated. We may be disappointed, but not to the point of despair. Our property may be destroyed, but our hearts are even more determined. Our possessions may be broken, but our minds are made up.”
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About 50 members — about a third of normal attendance — heard Kelley’s sermon on the storms of life at the Gardere Lane church.
Kelley said many church members have been displaced. Greater First Church Baptist had about eight feet of water in its Groom Road sanctuary and about half that in its activity center, Kelley said.
He preached from Psalm 107:23-32, which tells of sailors crying out to God, who calmed the storm that threatened them. Storms are inevitable and predictable, but also manageable, Kelley said.
“God will take what was there to hurt us, and it turns out it’s something that can help us,” he said. “So you’ve got to always understand when God is in your life, everything is going to work out all right. Can I get a witness?”
In Central, floodwaters breached the sanctuary and other buildings of Comite Baptist Church, and nearly every one of the congregation’s 200 members had flood damage at their homes.
About 60 of them met Sunday afternoon at the sanctuary of Fellowship Baptist Church in Central, which had no damage. They greeted one another with hugs and questions of “How much water did you get?”
Pastor Dale Phillips reflected on the challenge the congregation faces to rebuild, individually and as a church.
The work is mountainous, he said, as are the flood-ruined memories and possessions that have been piled along the roadside over the past week.
“Sometimes you look at a mountain and it seems undoable,” Phillips said. “Sometimes a mountain is truly a mountain, and you can’t overcome it.”
But then Phillips reminded the congregants of the Old Testament book of Joshua, when Joshua and the Israelites faced their own mountain, the massive forces of the five Amorite kings. They defeated them with God’s help.
“The enemy can come as five kings,” he said at the sermon’s end. “Or the enemy can come as a wall of water rushing into our homes.”
At Celtic Media Centre, which opened as one of the first shelters for flood victims and is expected to close later this week, the Rev. Richard Andrus, of St. Paul Catholic Church reminded the 50 or so gathered that God is a rescuer.
"Ours is a God who has a way of making a way out of no way," Andrus said.
He and pastors from several other churches opened their Bibles and laid out their notes on a lectern created from an overturned plastic storage bin.
The service was coordinated by Shanta Harrison Proctor, director of Women's Policy in the Governor's Office. Ecumenical services also were scheduled at shelters housed at the Baton Rouge River Center, the LSU Maddox Fieldhouse and the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, and the Mike Kennery Center in Hammond.
"The governor expressed a need to meet the spiritual and mental needs of the people in the shelters," Proctor said. "So, we collaborated with community churches to put this ecumenical service together. The people in the shelters can't travel to their churches, so we wanted to bring their worship traditions to them. And when I look around, even the volunteers and the National Guardsmen have been blessed by this."
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The Rev. Ashley Freeman, of Trinity Episcopal Church, later stepped to the makeshift lectern to pray, saying God is "our refuge and strength and is ever present in this time of trouble."
Evacuee John Vary said he showed up because, "we all need a little holy in our lives."
Vary lived in the Greenwell Springs area. He came to the shelter on Saturday after water rapidly began filling his house.
"It was up to my chest when I left," he said. "I am blessed. As long as you can open your eyes, you are blessed, and I am blessed."
Also participating were the Rev. Rodney Wood, chaplain for the Louisiana State Capitol; the Rev. Antroy Gavin, of True Vine Baptist Church; the Rev. Brenda Campbell; and the Rev. Joe Connelly, of Wesley United Methodist Church.
"God did not say there would be no waters,' Wood told those gathered. "He did say, 'I will be with you. The rivers will not sweep you away.'"
Editor's Note: This story was changed Aug. 22 to reflect the amended closing date for Celtic Media Centre as a shelter.