Rev. Chad Brooks, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Sterlington, says running a live stream on Easter Sunday from his bathtub due to a tornado passing through the area is just par for the course these days.
"We were making jokes about the locusts coming next while chainsawing out the entrance to our neighborhood," says Brooks. "These sorts of disasters, and we have had a few locally over the last few years, have this odd way of bringing folks together. I really think it is a tangible way to put Jeremiah 29:7 into context; it is the physical action of causing peace and shalom to happen in the places God has placed us."
Promote the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because your future depends on its welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
The storm was part of a series of thunderstorms that raced across north Louisiana Easter Sunday. From Shreveport to Monroe, the entire area experienced straight-line winds, strong thunderstorms and, at times, tornadoes.
Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey was monitoring the storm from the residence in Baton Rouge.
"Immediately upon learning of the storms, my prayers were for everyone in that region. I am just so thankful there were no serious injuries, though there is a lot of cleanup ahead of us," she said. "Pastors had been working so hard to make sure they were ready for worship and suddenly this storm arrives. I'm never surprised at how Louisianians know what to do when these times occur in our lives. They've been amazing and they've been responsive already."
Meanwhile, in Monroe, at St. James United Methodist Church, Rev. John Tellis was just finishing his online Easter message when he heard what sounded like a train whistle.
"Well, I thought something strange was happening due to the sound," Tellis said. "So we ran into the hallway and that's when the storm hit the rear of the church."
The winds ripped across the roof, throwing some of it onto his truck, and shattered some of the rear windows.
Tellis had just finished preaching on the crucifixion of Jesus, paying particular attention to Calvary and how the resurrection of Jesus brought glory to Calvary.
On the day after the storm, Tellis says he can see the glory of the awful moment from Sunday.
"You know, I look around today and I see the glory of what had happened," Tellis says. "I look around and see everyone out and about, cleaning up and taking care of one another. We have shifted our attention from things such as buildings and sanctuaries to what is really important - our neighbors. Loving and caring for one another is the glory of that moment and it's what's happening today."
Storms in Louisiana are nothing new. Storms on Easter Sunday in the midst of a pandemic while nearly everyone is trying to 'distance socially' - that is new ground.
"Spontaneously, they began opening their doors to help," said Rev. Elaine Burleigh, Director of the Conference Office of Missional Engagement and Outreach. "Fallen trees are being removed. Roofs are being tarped and storm debris cleared out. Neighbors are connecting with neighbors to reclaim hope from the rubble and the community response has just been amazing."
Rev. Shawn Hornsby is leading the United Methodist effort in Monroe to respond to the need. At this time, the Conference is not anticipating a conference-wide ERT callout. However, there are efforts to recruit and organize volunteers who will concentrate their efforts in the hardest-hit areas of the Monroe near St. James United Methodist Church. Scott Spalding has offered to help train the volunteers and Rev. Bob Deich has offered supplies and assistance for the Monroe teams.
"It is likely that we will send additional teams in a few weeks," says Burleigh. "These teams will be needed to assess the remaining needs and provide any additional support needed."
During the initial aftermath, Brooks and his neighbors immediately thought of the order to stay six feet apart yet also knew the need to help one another was just too great.
"To literally see people make the decision to disregard the safety protocols we have been following for over a month now for the sake of their neighbors was amazing," he said. " That is a pretty physical definition of loving your neighbor as yourself."
Much is made of the connection inside United Methodist churches and particularly the connection in Louisiana during a storm. While that is never lost on Brooks, he was most reflective of the connection inside his own neighborhood.
"I typically am the one contacting folks and getting help together for them," he said. "For me to be on the other side of that was help was sobering. It wasn't just a place I knew, or another part of town...but my own neighborhood. Some of the worst damage was across the street from my yard. Knowing that others care matters."