KENNER – After years of working toward his goal of increasing the membership, attendance at First Baptist Church of Kenner had reached 500 people for the fourth week in a row that Aug. 28, 2005. In fact, that Sunday a high of 549 people worshipped inside the sanctuary and Pastor Tony Merida was on cloud nine. Then, one day later, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the early morning hours of Aug. 29. His church members evacuated and scattered throughout the South.
KENNER – After years of working toward his goal of increasing the membership, attendance at First Baptist Church of Kenner had reached 500 people for the fourth week in a row that Aug. 28, 2005. In fact, that Sunday a high of 549 people worshipped inside the sanctuary and Pastor Tony Merida was on cloud nine.
Then, one day later, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the early morning hours of Aug. 29. His church members evacuated and scattered throughout the South.
Merida wondered what the future of his church held. He received his answer Sept. 25, at the first post-Katrina service.
Amidst an atmosphere of jubilation, 200 worshipers high-fived one another.
Instead of being fearful, Merida was now optimistic about his church’s future.
“It was like homecoming that first Sunday back in our facility,” Merida said. “It just felt like Christmas and I felt a sense of thankfulness to God for bringing us back together after a terrible event.”
A year later, the church has begun to reach three-fourths of its pre-Katrina level, maintaining 375 each week. While the church has begun to adjust to its “new normal,” Merida said; its demographics have changed.
“For many years, we struggled to have young people in our church,” Merida explained. “Then, in the few years before Katrina hit, we had many young people and couples starting to come to our church. Now, many of them have accepted jobs outside of the New Orleans area,” the pastor continued. “If they didn’t have ties to family or jobs waiting on them, they’re more than likely never coming back here. Our goal now is to minister to the people in our congregation and the community.”
While the church is faced with the challenge of regrouping, Merida said positive things have developed from the tragedy.
“We are 17 percent over our budget as compared to this same time last year, and that’s incredible,” Merida noted. “We also have learned to sacrifice for others among us in need. Our congregation has done a fantastic job reaching out to those who don’t have a church home.”
See related article on First Kenner on page 22 for more on their disaster relief efforts.
While First Baptist, Kenner did not have worship services for five weeks, First Baptist Church of Mandeville never missed a Sunday worship service. The church building sustained minimal damage and had planned to operate on emergency generators for its first post-Katrina service. But 15 minutes before the service began, the sanctuary power was restored.
Pastor Ken Schroeder reported that of the 86 people who attended the service, about half either were members of other churches or did not attend a church. One couple who attended that service hace accepted Christ as their personal Savior; they still attend First Mandeville.
For the next few months, the church held one worship service and temporarily suspended its Sunday school, Sunday night and Wednesday evening activities. A year later, the church has returned to two Sunday morning services and Wednesday night activities.
However, Schroeder said, the church has suspended its regular Sunday evening program because of a small congregation of 325, compared to 450 before Katrina. But the church has refused to let Satan destroy their spirit.
“We’ve seen that in spite of the trouble we’ve faced, God has been with us all,” Schroeder said. “Our people have praised God for the opportunity that has presented itself as a result of the storm.”
Further south, Calvary Baptist Church in the Algiers area of New Orleans held its first worship service two weeks after Katrina made landfall in the city. Fifty-two people gathered for worship on Sept. 11. Most of them were first responders and others who were allowed back into Jefferson Parish, since the government had not allowed people into the area for two weeks beforehand.
By its fifth post-Katrina Sunday service, that number had increased to 250 worshipers.
Pastor Keith Manuel said his church has become more missions-minded as a result of being in the midst of Disaster Relief efforts. This year’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions was $13,000, compared to $3,000 in in its previous ‘best-ever’ year.
“It’s been incredible what’s happened since the hurricane,” Manuel said. “God is going to do some simply amazing things here in New Orleans. This is only the tip of the iceberg.”