In Katrina's Path: One Church's Story
By Pastor Mike Hogg (MDiv '93)
From the website of Canal Street Presbyterian Church, New Orleans:
"Our building still stands on Canal Street, our people still stand united in cities like Houston, Dallas, Jackson and Birmingham. We are a church without walls..."
Our family evacuated our home in New Orleans on Saturday, August 27, two days before Katrina made landfall. I was on a silent retreat at Manresa, a Jesuit facility that offers spiritual renewal weekends for all denominations. When Katrina made the unexpected turn to the south, then northwest, Christina, my wife, mobilized our five kids to begin the familiar practice of grabbing vital belongings and personal items that would enable them to spend "a few days" in a hotel in Houston. I met my family in Baton Rouge. Accompanying the humans were Chuck, our cockapoo, and Channel, our black cat. Rabbits, an iguana, and a hamster were left behind on high shelves to fend for themselves.
We spent the first week in Houston: first in a hotel, then in a home of the parents of a New Orleans acquaintance. We watched with the rest of the country as the horror in New Orleans unfolded. When reports began to come in that water in the central business district was rising, we knew that the levees had been breached--and that our house and our church, Canal Street Presbyterian (CSPC), were in trouble. We began to quickly connect with congregation members through our church website and by phone, confirming that everyone was safe and had a place to stay and money to survive. In the first week, groups of members from CSPC began to meet in various cities in coffee shops, praying together and providing comfort and encouragement.
After a week in Houston, we began to consider long-term housing options for our family of seven. City officials were predicting that it would be months before the city was drained and people could return to claim possessions. Christina's family, living in Tucson, called and offered a furnished home and schools willing to take our kids. After consulting with church elders, we decided to go for it, knowing that the location would offer the best resources for our family, but not knowing what this would mean for our ability to get in and out of New Orleans.
For two weeks in Tucson, we continued to stay in close contact with church members through the Internet. We were able to set up a relief fund for donations, connect displaced members with resources being offered from around the country, and facilitate leadership of the church elders through an online, ongoing leadership meeting. In Tucson we were able to visit evacuees housed at the city convention center, and have been able to connect with local churches that are assisting with the collection of needed equipment.
On October 1, I drove with a brother-in-law to New Orleans in a pickup truck purchased by friends from Hollywood Presbyterian, our former church. We were able to take in needed supplies, assess the damage to the church, lead the elders in hiring a contractor (church member), and begin the task of drying out a church with 10 feet of water in the basement (standing water on first floor appeared to have reached one foot) and mold appearing to grow up the walls at a rate of a foot a day. Wind damage to the roof of the church caused severe damage to a second floor gym and classrooms. The church, comprised primarily of middle-income members, had long ago dropped its flood insurance due to escalating rates.
In addition to the inspection and work at the church, I was able to inspect my own home, which miraculously stayed dry on the inside. Our neighbor's roof came off and fell in a small space between our houses, and we expect that our central air conditioning units were ruined by standing water, but other than that (and a maggot-filled refrigerator), we escaped relatively unharmed. We also helped one of our church families sort through their ruined home (two blocks from the church), led our first post-storm worship service in the home of one of our members (25 in attendance--about 20 percent of the congregation), and spent a lot of time listening to the concerns and joys of our people. Mid-week Christina flew into Jackson, Mississippi, with our youngest daughter, to survey the damage and join me in ministry. In general, hospitals remained closed, police presence was minimal, and garbage and refuse of various forms still coated most of the city. Only those with the means to travel and a hope for a standing home were returning to the city. The housing projects were eerily quiet, and most streets in our middle-income neighborhood were relatively empty.
This past weekend Christina, our youngest daughter, and I drove to Taylor University in Indiana to speak to the student body about the situation in New Orleans. Along the way we were able to stop and see several of our church members who have remained displaced by the storm. Currently we are on our way back to Arizona, where we will reunite with our other children for a few anticipated birthday celebrations. In about a week, I will return to New Orleans with a larger load of equipment and will continue to help direct arriving work crews and provide pastoral care for people of the church and neighborhood.
Despite the large-scale destruction and tremendous loss of life and property, we remain hopeful that the Lord will use this disaster for his glory. We anticipate serving our neighborhood and congregation as the presence of Christ, and pray that as people face their most pressing needs, their hearts will be filled with the peace of God. Our hope is that our whole family will be able to return to the city when schools are opened and conditions seem safe for children.
Visit Canal Street Presbyterian's website, at www.cspcno.org, for more information and to offer your support. Pastor Hogg would welcome individuals or work teams willing to help with the reconstruction effort, or any other forms of assistance for his church.