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Despite a tight economy, churches have helped New Orleans rebuild

We make do with what we have.

Mass media inform us daily of places and events that call out to the faithful and stir feelings of compassion for us to respond to needs.

However, these are also days of tight budgets and difficult decisions.

Too often, a church board’s decisions center on the unspoken question, “How much do we have to cut in order to support our building?”  Maintenance needs are there, silently demanding, developing an assortment of leaks, cracks, falling plaster, exposed asbestos. 

In the CEO mentality, the words, “We take care of ourselves first,” creep in as we face repairs, hiring expensive help to do specialized repairs and trying to keep up with utility bills.

No easy solutions pop into mind, but if we allow things, such as buildings, to narrow our focus, we lose both long-term goals and long-term relationships.

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf region, the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ offered help to Little Farms United Church of Christ in New Orleans. 

The church’s roof and siding had been damaged.  The membership was widely dispersed.  Many homes in the neighborhood needed mucking out and extensive repairs.  It was agreed that the conference would send financial support for a number of years along with work teams.

Some members of the first work team made repairs to the church building, while the rest began the heartbreaking work of carrying the contents of houses to the curb for pickup. 

As they moved furniture, appliances and personal effects, they occasionally found a photograph, a baby dress or some other belonging that was not mud-soaked and molding. 

Returning these supposedly small bits of their former lives to the owners added a depth of meaning to what could have been merely a messy job.

The Sunday school rooms of the Little Farms UCC Church became the dorm rooms in which team members unrolled their sleeping bags, and they prepared their meals in the church kitchen.  Bathroom facilities were what you would expect in a church. 

The church members who were still in the area prepared a New Orleans-style dinner one evening each week, and stories were exchanged as the groups became acquainted.

In the years since Katrina, the church has been hosting more than 40 work teams a year from various denominations and organizations, so they have upgraded sleeping and bathroom facilities, and added furnishings.  The dinners with the congregation continue.

The church’s commitment to mission is also evident in its commitment for 10 percent of its budget to go to outside organizations.

At some point, it occurred to people here that children from Little Farms might enjoy summer camp, so funds were raised for them and the adults traveling with them.  There have been more stories exchanged and friendships have developed.

The ministry in this situation has been mutual and inspiring.  Community happened.

Recently, Little Farms UCC presented the Pacific Northwest conference a ceremonial cross in recognition of the help that had been given.  The cross is being passed from church to church as a reminder of what church should be about.

The recent tornadoes forcefully remind us that there are always needs.  Little Farms reminds us of why we respond.

If we close in on ourselves, we fail to do what faithful people should be doing, and we also miss out on some incredible experiences that inspire us to find ways to keep on doing. 

Nancy Minard - Editorial Team