Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pennsylvania church takes lead in program with New Orleans churches.

Several Church of the Brethren congregations are exploring taking part in Churches Supporting Churches, the ecumenical effort to partner with congregations in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. University Baptist and Brethren Church in State College, Pa., has made the commitment to participate and has been partnered with St. John’s Baptist Church in New Orleans.

The Church of the Brethren is one of six denominations and three ecumenical organizations that have joined together in the National Council of Churches working group. Brethren Disaster Ministries and the Brethren Witness/Washington Office are representing the denomination. David Jehnsen, a Church of the Brethren member from Columbus, Ohio, serves as vice-chair to the working group and was instrumental in its formation.

Members of the University Baptist and Brethren youth group recently visited and worshiped with the St. John’s church prior to their participation in a denominational work camp. Brittany Hamilton, one member of the youth group, commenting on the spirit of the worship, said, "They were really praising Jesus." The youth group and the congregation anticipate hosting members of St. John’s Baptist Church as they make a visit to State College in late fall.

Altoona (Pa.) 28th Street Church of the Brethren hosted an informational program on Churches Supporting Churches for Altoona area churches on June 22, and has expressed interest in developing a partner relationship with one of the 32 New Orleans congregations identified by the Churches Supporting Churches National Working Group. In addition, a leader in the Church of God, from Martinsburg, Pa., attended the gathering and is organizing partner possibilities in that area.

At the Altoona gathering, Phil Jones, director of the Brethren Witness/Washington Office and a Church of the Brethren representative to the working group, presented details of the program and gave an update on the New Orleans area almost three years following Katrina.

"Hope is still alive," he said. "Even as you walk through the completely devastated area of the Lower Ninth Ward, where almost no rebuilding has occurred, even here you find hope. Hope is found in a small, modest, brightly painted home that has been rebuilt within site of the levee that broke and poured the mighty Mississippi into their homes." He said an elderly woman at the home proclaimed that it is "a invitation" for the community to return. Many of the partner churches of Churches Supporting Churches are located in this community and desperately want to return, Jones said.

Jones has traveled numerous times to New Orleans since Katrina, in order to attend meetings related to Churches Supporting Churches. Zach Wolgemuth, associate director of Brethren Disaster Ministries, has helped provide some resources for longterm recovery and rebuilding efforts, and has helped explore the possibility of responding to rebuilding needs in church neighborhoods.

Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast in Aug. 2005, many churches, particularly in the hardest hit areas of New Orleans, are still struggling to carry out their ministries. Pastors are attempting to function with depleted resources, while the social problems in poverty-stricken communities have mounted.

The goal of Churches Supporting Churches is to help 36 congregations in 12 predominantly African-American neighborhoods that have been destroyed by the hurricane. The mission is to "restart, reopen, and repair or rebuild the churches in order for them to be agents for community development and to recreate their community." Church of the Brethren congregations are being encouraged to become "Katrina Church Partners" by adopting churches that have been affected, and making a commitment to support their efforts of rebuilding and renewing their community for a three-year period.

For more information about Churches Supporting Churches, contact the Brethren Witness/Washington Office, 337 N. Carolina Ave., SE, Washington, DC 20003;; 800-785-3246. Further information and application profiles will be available at Annual Conference.

Source: 7/2/2008 Newsline

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