Episcopalians, Baptists find a home with Methodists post-flooding

October 16, 2016
Finding yourself in the epicenter of catastrophic flooding can keep a church busy. It also provides incredible opportunities to serve as the “hands and feet” of Christ, said the Rev. Jaqueline King, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs.
 
“Our facilities were the only structures that did not flood in the entire antique district,” said King, adding that close to 90 percent of the city’s buildings and homes were damaged during historic August flooding in south Louisiana. “The city’s infrastructure was fractured.”
 
Almost immediately, the United Methodist pastor received texts and messages from her members with a heartwarming request—“Let’s invite the Baptists and the Episcopalians to worship with us!”
 
These members knew that two nearby churches, First Baptist and St. Francis Episcopal, had flooded. “I was so proud of our church members. In the midst of taking care of their own flooded homes, they were more concerned for their neighbors and where those folks would be able to worship,” said King.
 
So, on any given Sunday morning, you will currently find different denominations in worship in First UMC’s sanctuary--Baptists at 9, United Methodists at 10:30 and Episcopalians starting at noon. “First UMC combined all three of its services to one so that we could offer space to our friends,” said the Denham Springs pastor, who became concerned when she discovered that St. Francis was conducting mass in its church parking lot. “We were experiencing 90 degree plus temperatures at the time. I remember thinking, ‘We can’t have this.’” King is pictured, above, with Father Tommy Dillon, priest for St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge. Father Mark Holland, not pictured, leads St. Francis Episcopal.
 
Offering worship space to the members of First Baptist has been a way of paying it forward for these hospitable United Methodists. “You see, First Baptist gave us a place to worship after our church burned in 2007. We lost our education and family life center, and smoke and water caused extensive damage in the sanctuary. There was no spot for worship, but First Baptist generously opened their hearts and their doors to us. First UMC has always been grateful,” said King.
 
When the Denham Springs church began to rebuild, attention was paid to how the new buildings could be designed and used for outreach in the community. “The church leadership at that time decided that the church buildings should be designed so that First UMC could serve as a center for missions. Rooms are always available for outside groups. There are common spaces that welcome all ages, providing gathering areas to study, to learn and to be in mission,” said King.
 
Perhaps one of the most important decisions came when the church installed showers, washers and dryers with the intent of offering housing for disaster response teams and for the purpose of becoming a “shelter in the storm.”

“The church became certified as a Red Cross shelter. And as before, we opened our doors when the rains came and the flood waters hit this year,” said the pastor, who added that every single church member that volunteered on the weekend of the history flooding took on water in their homes.
 
Despite the strain, First UMC became a distribution center for cleaning buckets, mops, brooms and bleach. “We had clothing, bread, water and other food items which were in short supply since no stores were open. God sent supplies and helpers so that we could struggle to our feet,” she said, adding that it was “hard” to watch her church members on the receiving end of this vital help. “They are so mission minded; they’re usually the ones that are extending a hand to those in need.”
 
Through every phase of this most recent response effort, Rev. King has been truly grateful for the support of the United Methodist connection. “I have felt the prayers. And I have literally felt the strengthening of God on me. We are so appreciative of the volunteers who have come, and continue to be thankful for the volunteers who will come to help us!"
 
Story by Betty Backstrom, Communication Liaison for the Louisiana Conference