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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

"You probably don't realize how much help you have been to me," said Rev. Aldon Cotton on Wednesday, May 9, after a group of volunteers from Shaw University Divinity School completed a neighborhood survey. Four students from the Christian Ethics class, along with their professor, had traveled to New Orleans, LA, from Raleigh, NC, to provide assistance in whatever way they could to churches trying to get back on their feet after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Rev. Cotton is pastor of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, which formerly had a building near the corner of Fourth Street and Galvez Street in the Central City section of New Orleans. He explained the significance of the location by saying, "If you understand the geography of New Orleans as being like a saucer, our neighborhood is the middle, the lowest part, of the saucer." That means that when the floodwaters rose, they were very deep at Jerusalem Baptist Church and its surroundings.

Very few people have returned to live in this part of town. Most of the houses have been demolished or gutted, and probably fewer than ten per cent are currently occupied. Here and there, people are working on their homes and hiring contractors, but most of the properties lay empty and overgrown during this late spring in subtropical New Orleans.

The students, Jason Caldwell, John Pierce, Pamela Sattiewhite, and Darlene Thorne, chose to do their final project for Christian Ethics by making a trip to New Orleans. The opportunity came when their professor, Mike Broadway, received a grant from the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America to pay for plane fare and a few expenses to allow five students to volunteer their services to churches in New Orleans.

They participated in a program called Churches Supporting Churches, which was started by the joint efforts of Dr. C. T. Vivian, noted pastor and civil rights leader now of Atlanta, a former dean of Shaw University Divinity School, Dr. David Jehnsen of the Institute for Human Rights and Responsibilities, and Rev. Dwight Webster of Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans.

Shaw University Divinity School’s Dean James T. Roberson, Jr., remarked, “At Shaw we are working to increase this sort of opportunity for our students to learn in diverse places where the church must respond to the critical needs of our day, through partnerships like this one and others. Our mission to prepare clergy and laity to be leaders in the practice of ministry demands that we help them be aware of the critical issues for contemporary churches.”

The first Shaw student to travel to New Orleans under this program, Clarence McLain, went in November to work with Christian Unity Baptist Church. He assisted new church leaders in planning for reestablishing ministries, and he canvassed the neighborhood to gather information on residents and offer spiritual support. One objective of this project is to inspire these students to persuade their own churches to become partners with congregations in New Orleans.

Churches Supporting Churches has organized a group of pastors in New Orleans--Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, and more--to take leadership in shaping the recovery of communities. The goal is to reestablish communities by restarting, reopening, repairing, and rebuilding thirty-six churches in all parts of New Orleans. The pastors have been building relationships, gaining skills and capacities, and working in their communities to offer hope, support, and a plan for community transformation. On Monday, May 7, the students were able to observe as a group of pastors met to make agreements and plans for the next steps in obtaining major funding to support neighborhood projects for community development.

One part of the process includes gathering data on the neighborhoods and their needs. The Shaw students walked around each block of a twenty-three block area near Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. In a day and a half, they recorded the addresses and the condition of each lot. Roughly a third were vacant, having had their structures demolished. A few remaining structures seemed destined for demolition. About half or more were gutted or in need of being gutted, and the waiting game to see who will rebuild and who will sell out hangs over the scattered evacuees and the residents who have returned. Probably no more than ten per cent have been partially or thoroughly rehabilitated so that they can be occupied. It is a dismal sight, and no easy breeding ground for hope.

Pamela Sattiewhite, a first-year Shaw University Divinity School student from San Antonio, Texas, commented on her experiences learning about the needs of New Orleans' people and churches, "It is heartbreaking to see that the devastation of Hurricane Katrina is still evident almost 2-years later. As the people of New Orleans work towards rebuilding their lives, homes, and community, I am reminded that there is no place like home. Despite the outer appearance and conditions of the 9th Ward and other parts of New Orleans, many of the people that I spoke to look forward to rebuilding their homes, and they are happy to share their memories of the ordeal. As I reflect on the spirit of the people of New Orleans, LA I am reminded that 'a setback is a setup for a come back!' "

Rev. Cotton said it would have taken him at least a month to finish the community survey because he would not be able to work on it more than one day a week, and then as only one person. Moving around the neighborhood is slowed as well because of the need to converse with people about how they are doing, and to find out how he can minister to them. By completing the survey, the students were able to hand him the raw data that will become a major piece of the evidence that Churches Supporting Churches is ready to make good use of requested funds for community development.

On Thursday, May 10, the Shaw group met three co-pastors of a United Methodist Cooperative Parish. Rev. James Haynes, Rev. Becky Conner, and Rev. Jeff Conner are serving three congregations on the eastern side of New Orleans. Covenant United Methodist Church in Chalmette has been open for services for some time, and all three congregations have been meeting together there. Cornerstone United Methodist Church in New Orleans East will soon reopen for weekly worship. Hartzell United Methodist Church in the Lower Ninth Ward is on its way toward rebuilding, and a volunteer construction crew from Arizona was hard at work there during that same week.

Rev. Becky Conner asked the Shaw group to help them transport some computers to the Cornerstone church site and move some furniture there so that they will be ready to move their offices and set up a computer lab. The computers were donated by a non-profit from Baton Rouge, and they had been stored in the pastors' apartments while the church building was being restored. They would soon be ready for use in reestablishing outreach ministries to elders and to children. They filled the back seats and trunks of four cars with computers, monitors, printers, and cables and delivered them to the computer lab room at the church.

The pastors said, "We had been dreading the process of taking these computers one at a time each day as we went to work at the church. You saved us so much time today." It was going to be tedious and inefficient. But a small amount of effort by the Shaw volunteers made a big difference for these pastors who have so many important tasks to do in a community with so many needs.

Throughout the week, the Shaw students were able to meet with pastors of other churches, talk with neighborhood residents, and view the continuing effects of the devastating storm twenty-one months after it came and went. Dr. Broadway said, "I can think of no more important place to be learning about ministry in this time than in New Orleans. I am so glad that my students and I have had this opportunity to see the work of God in this place."

Another group of sixteen Shaw University Divinity School students and three professors traveled to New Orleans on February 5-8, 2007, for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. The theme of the conference was “In the Wake of Katrina: Lest We Forget . . . Call to Renewal.” The students enrolled in an elective course called Problems in Pastoral Counseling taught by Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan and Dr. Helen McLaughlin. Participants attended plenaries, seminars, and on-site field education experiences, engaging in ministry to survivors of Katrina at nursing homes and a freedom school; assisted a congregation, research center, and individual home owners with rebuilding, clean up, and preservations, and participated in peer-to-peer discussion with AIDS survivors and persons experiencing labor discrimination. One highlight was attending a moving sunrise memorial service at the Katrina Memorial at the foot of the Claiborne Street Bridge in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan says that in this context, students faced the questions, “Where was God in the Katrina event? Where is the church and to whom is it speaking and ministering? Now that the demands of reconstruction and restorative justice in the United States Gulf Coast is upon us, what does that say abou the reconstruction and justice in the Gulf Coast when this nation is at war on the premise of preemptive protection from injustice and the threat of terrorism? This Black Church community, however, is resilient and is fighting to rise again.”

1 comment:

Mike Broadway said...

Thanks to Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, my colleague and office mate who assisted me in writing this post by writing a summary of the trip made to the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in February 2007.

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