By Marilyn Stewart, Regional Reporter
NEW ORLEANS – Rebirth and a call to mission was the theme of the recent sanctuary rededication of New Orleans’ Gentilly Baptist Church. The service came four and half years after the facility flooded in Hurricane Katrina.
“Welcome to Gentilly Baptist Church, where hope is alive,” Dennis Cole, associate pastor, said to the people in the packed worship center.
[img_assist|nid=6137|title=A crowd of more than 275 attended the rededication of Gentilly Baptist Church which flooded in Hurricane Katrina|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]The racially mixed congregation stood to sing the words that captured the service’s message: “Greater things are yet to come; greater things are still to be done in this city.”
Ken Taylor, pastor, challenged the congregation of 275 to remember that God had called them to take the Gospel into the neighborhood.
“If we will work as hard to reach the community as we, and others, have done to rebuild this sanctuary, then God will do great things,” Taylor said.
The church took a brief look back to the devastation that engulfed two congregations – Elysian Fields Baptist and Gentilly Baptist – before uniting them in service and mission.
Flood damage totaled the Elysian Fields Baptist Church facility, located less than two miles from the Gentilly church. The congregations first worshipped together on the steps of the damaged, but salvageable, Gentilly church building in June 2006 and officially merged in December 2007.
“These two churches come from a rich heritage,” said Jimmy Dukes, a former pastor of Elysian Fields Baptist Church and speaker for the event. “But the future is a lot brighter.”
Taylor, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor of urban missions, was the pastor of Elysian Fields Baptist Church when Katrina hit. Cole, a NOBTS professor of Old Testament and archaeology, is a long-time member of Gentilly Baptist Church.
Dukes told the congregation the service marked a turning point and called on them to put Katrina behind them and look to the future. Citing Philippians 3, Dukes encouraged them to follow Paul’s example of being willing to give everything to the cause of Christ.
“Our calling should lead us outside these walls to serve others in His name,” Dukes said.
“God has his grip on us for that purpose.”
Dukes told of driving through the Gentilly neighborhood years earlier and the impact it had on his life as he realized the homes he passed where filled with people who didn’t know Jesus.
“We’re not going to stop; we’re not going to quit,” Dukes said. “When you’re focused on Christ, then your focus is on doing His purpose and His will.”
Taylor gave a heartfelt thank you to Dukes for his help following the storm and his involvement with the recovery process.
“[Dukes] was part of the miracle,” Taylor said.
Jackie James, the project manager for the Arkansas Baptist Builders during the two-year period when the organization headquartered at Gentilly Baptist Church, was present for the service. A group from Arkansas Baptist Builders and members of the Missouri and the Tennessee Baptist Builders were in attendance.
“You’ll never know what a contribution you’ve made. To have you come and stand alongside us has truly been a blessing,” Dukes told the volunteers. Dukes is a NOBTS professor and the director of theological education and distance learning for the Florida Baptist Convention.
Cole recognized the Baptist Builders volunteers at the beginning of the service and said, “We’re just so thankful for how God worked through you.”
The Arkansas Baptist Builders, in partnership with the Kansas-Nebraska Baptist Builders, coordinated the work of 6,000 volunteers and enabled 200 people to return home. More than 1,800 additional work projects were completed for 300 homeowners.
Duane McDaniel, the executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association, told the crowd they were proof of God’s promise that the gates of hell cannot prevail against his church.
“May you continue to be a beacon of light,” McDaniel said.
Cheryl Borne, who joined Elysian Fields 13 years ago, said the church is able to minister to the community in ways it couldn’t before the storm.
“People didn’t want to hear about Jesus before,” Borne said. “Now if you knock on a door, people are going to invite you inside.”
Borne said the blending of the two congregations was natural and brought together a diverse congregation with “so much richness.”
The day kicked off the church’s new Adult Sunday School with 65 in attendance. Kim Craig, minister to children, was thanked for her faithfulness in keeping the children’s ministry going through the rebuilding process. Cole was thanked for his pastoral care and for overseeing the first steps in recovery of the building in the storm’s aftermath.
“I see things happening through the combined congregations that would not have happened otherwise,” Dukes said.
Borne said that seeing God’s faithfulness through the storm has given her boldness to share the Gospel and say, “This is hope.”