More than a year after First United Methodist Church’s majestic stained glass dome emerged unscathed from Hurricane Katrina, a full recovery for the region seems far away.
Repairs to the church are expected to cost about $1 million, and much of the work is yet to be completed. More than 40 families from the congregation have left the area, probably for good. Average Sunday attendance has fallen from 350 before Katrina to about 220, with many parishioners who stayed in the area coming to church less and less frequently.
Associate Pastor Robbie Murden D’05 had been in his first appointment for only three months when Katrina struck Aug. 28, 2005. “This is a really tough time,” he says, the weariness evident in his voice. “There’s this kind of dampening of the spirit.”
In the storm’s aftermath, members began missing church to deal with the immediate concerns of rebuilding, says Murden. Now, some of those parishioners have not resumed regular attendance.
He often hears members of the congregation say they can’t wait for life to return to normal, but Murden suspects the community will never be the same. Too many people have moved away, too many houses have been destroyed, and too many businesses have disappeared. Casinos and expensive condominiums are springing up faster than affordable housing.
Malaise in the congregation, like in many area congregations, is difficult to overcome, Murden says.
“People aren’t happy; they’re very melancholy,” he says. “How as leaders do we reignite that spark and get them excited about coming to church and living the word of God? I think it’s going to take a while.”
An infusion of clergy with a fresh perspective would help, Murden says, adding that ministers who have served in the Gulf Coast region since the storm might benefit from transfer out of the area.
“At some point I hope the ministers who were here for the storm will move to places less affected so they can step away from Katrina,” he says. “You don’t want to dwell on Katrina, but it’s hard when you’re here all the time. We could use someone with a fresh spirit here to push forward—someone who hasn’t had that emotional drain and physical drain and spiritual drain.”