Rayne United Methodist Church Extends New Orleans Hospitality for Carnival Parade-Goers

Mark Lambert
February 15, 2023

Some may believe a church – especially a landmark United Methodist church established nearly 150 years ago – has no business participating in a hedonistic gathering of alcohol-fueled partyers, many of whom are scandalously dressed and publicly fighting over worthless trinkets.

Some may call it “heresy,” but Rev. Jay Hogewood, Pastor of Rayne Memorial United United Methodist Church, calls it a “ministry opportunity” on St. Charles Avenue, right in the middle of the route of the signature New Orleans Carnival parades.

Rayne invites parade-goers to buy a $25 hospitality ticket that gives them access to the neighboring Epiphany House, a home the church owns, in which visitors can relax, have a meal, and watch the parade.
Rayne Memorial's Epiphany House
Both the church and Epiphany House, which Rayne purchased as an investment in 2017, are historical buildings. The 1875 church features Gothic-revival architecture with a tall spire and pointed arches. Epiphany House, built in 1892 and known as the George F. Lapeyre House, is a grand 6,500-square-foot Queen Anne-style mansion with three floors, four-and-a-half bathrooms and seven bedrooms.

“We call it the hospitality suite,” Rev. Hogewood said. “They get to use Epiphany House, have a meal or meals, and they have a place to watch the parade in front of church, and they can use the bathrooms.”

Rev. Hogewood, who has been pastor at Rayne since 2017, describes his church as “a servant-hearted congregation. They are thoughtful people, thoughtful about hosting. Hospitality is a gift.”

He also believes hospitality is a true ministry, and he has scripture to back him up.

“To me, clearly since the narrative of Abraham and Sarah hosting strangers, hospitality has been riveted in the Christian narrative into opening the door to people,” he said. "When Cleopas and Simon walked along the road to Emmaus, they would not have recognized the resurrected Christ had they not stopped and shared a meal. It’s Jesus’ hospitality that welcome us.”

For those who have never been to a New Orleans Carnival parade, Rev. Hogewood describes it “like Halloween on steroids. Mardi Gras is an equalizer, man. You see different people, different colors, all in front of Rayne. And we’re just saying, ‘just open the door, man!’”

For years, Rayne provided parade-goers with a clean, outdoor bathroom space through portable toilets, continuously cleaned by the church’s youth group. Anyone could get a wristband for $5 and have a clean, safe place all day to take a bathroom break. The proceeds funded the youth group’s activities, including its annual mission trip.

“A slow night would be, like, 300 people; a busy day would be literally 1,000 people,” Rev. Hogewood said. “We were the best deal in town, or at least, the best deal Uptown.”

Covid changed all that.

After the 2021 Carnival parades were cancelled, everyone thought it was time to flush the portable toilet service.

“It was a shame because the porta-potty ministry was a well-oiled machine,” Rev. Hogewood said. “But this ministry is more dynamic because people are moving around.”

Members of the youth group welcome the guests, cook the meals, and clean the house at night. The money from the operation – as much as $8,000 on a busy parade day – goes toward the youth group’s activities and mission trip.

Rev. Hogewood credits Epiphany House ministry’s success to Youth and Family Ministry Director Jacob Nichols and church administrator Shaun Darnall. And make no mistake: He considers the Epiphany House parade rental a true ministry.

“A lot of our neighbors are coming into our facility. It deepens our mission,” he said. “Honestly, I think it plays back to the hospitality of our congregation. We want to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Now, the hospitality is even deeper, and it’s an expanded use of our resources.”

“And the Bible tells us, when you host strangers, you are entertaining angels.”
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