New Orleans UMC Churches to Serve as True Neighborhood Lighthouses

Mark Lambert
June 01, 2023

The lighthouse, an age-old icon of Christian guidance and security, is getting a refresh in New Orleans.

Two United Methodist churches are participating in the Community Lighthouse project, an ambitious effort in New Orleans to build a network of solar-powered churches and community centers to give comfort and immediate relief to neighbors who lose their electricity after a storm.

Cornerstone United Methodist Church and First Grace United Methodist Church are among the 16 pilot locations aiming to be solar-powered in 2023.

“We will have solar panels and batteries set up, and it will allow us, when a hurricane hits and the grid is affected, to be that place where people can come,” said Rev. Dr. J.C. Richardson, servant senior pastor at Cornerstone. “We will be a place where people can refrigerate their insulin, where people can come and cool off.”

The project is spearheaded by Together New Orleans, a coalition of churches and community groups. Organizers ultimately want to set up a true network of “resilience hubs” across Louisiana, each equipped with commercial-grade solar panels, batteries, and equipment needed to help neighborhoods through power outages.

For the pilot project, TNO will need about $13.8 million. It already has collected about $11 million from foundations, government funding, and donations, and the group believes the project soon will be fully funded.

When Hurricane Ida knocked out power to the entire city in 2021, and the city sweltered for days and even weeks without electricity, “that was a lightbulb moment,” said Rev. Shawn Anglim of First Grace.

“That became pretty significant,” he said. “We live in south Louisiana. We’re going to have hurricanes. There’s going to be more, and they’re going to be mightier.”

Instead of pointing fingers and assigning blame for the energy grid’s failure, “we saw the option is not to be totally dependent on the power grid,” Anglim said.

By equipping churches as solar-powered lighthouses, “we could provide some services to our neighborhoods, where someone could reasonably get to our church, cool off, get some ice, get a meal, and charge their phones.”

Rev. Shawn Anglim, First Grace UMC, New Orleans
Photo Courtesy: Together New Orleans

Richardson sees the project as an embodiment of the “hands and feet of Christ” mission of the United Methodist Church, saying “every theology needs a methodology.”

“Social justice ministry is one of the stronger ministries in the church, and it has allowed us to be considered as a lighthouse,” Richardson said. “Do we see this as part of our mission here at Cornerstone? Yes, definitely.”

Anglim agreed, noting that United Methodists have traditionally been active in social issues, including the civil rights movement. “It was the Methodist churches along the coast that started the coastal erosion groups.”

First Grace was born from a hurricane. After Hurricane Katrina, two churches that were a mile apart, the mostly white First UMC and the mostly black Grace UMC, were combined to form a new church. Since then, First Grace has thrived as an integrated congregation that celebrates its diversity and embraces its role in tackling poverty, racial injustice, food insecurity, and other social issues.

“My congregation is a joyful group of people who care about their city,” Anglim said.

Cornerstone, a mostly black church, is in New Orleans East, an area Richardson describes as “a wave and say ‘hello’ community.” He said the lighthouse project “is an expression of the community that’s already there.”

“I really believe this lighthouse and this idea is really the next phase of what the civil rights movement started,” Richardson said. “Climate resiliency is really the next move as far as civil rights and human rights are concerned.”


For more on the project, please visit Together New Orleans.
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