Churchwork reflection by Karen Mackey, communication director, Diocese of Louisiana
“We are hoping to be in our new church building this time next year,” proclaimed St. Francis Senior Warden Gerald Rainey as he and his wife Janie sat down to reflect on the flood that severely damaged the church on August 12 and 13, 2016. It is one year since the “Great Flood” that destroyed many communities across Louisiana. The flood hit hard in Denham Springs where St. Francis is located.
After three days of intense rain, 20 inches of water flooded the church grounds. Every building had to be gutted. The parishioners have been displaced from the church and are holding services at the First United Church of Denham Springs.
“We started off worshiping for two Sundays after the flood in the back parking lot of the church,” stated Gerald Rainey. “I do a Bible study with the men of the United Methodist Church so I had some rapport with the pastor. With instruction from Father Mark Holland (priest-in-charge of St. Francis at the time), I asked if we could worship there. They have been a gracious host. They have been a godsend. We worship in-between their two services at 9:45 a.m. It has been good.”
“Even though we have been displaced almost every week we see somebody coming back or checking us out,” stated Janie Rainey. “It is pretty amazing. There is signage but they still have to find the Episcopal Church at the Methodist Church.” Gerald Rainey stated, “Every Sunday (before the flood) we had a hospitality hour. It was a full blown meal. When we went to the Methodist Church, we asked people to just bring a light snack. The people stayed. They still sit around for about an hour socializing.”
The Rev. Dan Krutz, who has previously served for seven years as the priest-in-charge for St. Francis, has returned as a supply priest when the Rev. Mark Holland accepted a call to serve as a rector of a church in Tennessee. “We were glad to get him back even in just a supply capacity,” stated Janie Rainey. “He knows us and we know him. He is a steady presence.”
Fifty percent of the parishioners’ homes flooded. Gerald Rainey stated, “Of the majority of people of our congregation that flooded, I can think of just two families that are back to normal with their house. There are a lot more families out of their homes than in their homes.”
The Raineys are still rebuilding their own home but are currently living in the house through the State of Louisiana’s Shelter in Place program. Janie Rainey explains, “We are not the exception. The exception is the person living the way they did before the flood.” Gerald Rainey went on to say, “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are getting there.”
“One thing we learned is how to prioritize,” stated Gerald Rainey. “You still have to deal with all the things going on in your life. We had a slow start here (at the church) because for the first few months we were still trying to figure out where we were going to lay our head at night. You have to put your family first. When things got halfway normal we could start focusing on the church.”
St. Francis is located on five acres of land on Maple Street. “We hired a local architecture firm to draw up a master plan for future use on how the entire campus will be layed out,” stated Gerald Rainey. “Our old church will be our new parish hall and we will have a new church building. All our committees and groups will meet with the architect so he can see what their wishes and dreams are for the new church. God is there. We have a lot of people in the church praying for God to guide and make sure we are on the right track. This is His will and not ours.”
“The parish hall will remain the same. The walls will stay the same but we will put in a commercial kitchen,” stated Gerald Rainey. “The kitchen equipment was a gift from the diocese. They came out of All Souls Church.”
“We also received stained glass windows as a gift from St. James. Those will go into the new church,” stated Gerald Rainey. “The windows came out of Annunciation Church in Donaldsonville. St. James saved them when that church closed and donated them to us.”
What was the parish hall, known as Founders Hall, is being reconceived as a possible outreach center for the community. For now, it is just a hope.
The administration building known as Cameron Hall has been rebuilt and is now being utilized once again as the church office and for Christian education programs. “We wanted to come up with a better plan. We think we are now utilizing every bit of this office. We are pleased.”
The Sunday school buildings are being reconceived as well. Gerald Rainey stated, “We have a lot of youth and we are working on the future for them. If we give them an active place to come and worship and have fun, we will put our best foot forward.”“One thing we have learned is how helpful people have been, how generous they have been” stated Gerald Rainey. “People reached out just wanting to help. We are grateful for the generosity of the diocese, Bishop Thompson, Trinity Church (New Orleans), and people across the Episcopal Church.” Janie Rainey went on to say, ”Every time we turn around, people are doing something affirming what we are doing here. People have been so generous.”
Gerald Rainey stated, “I am excited about where we are and the direction we are going because it is the way God wants us to. I am positive about that. He is showing us that each and every step we make is the right step. My main goal as the senior warden is when all of this rebuilding is done, I need to have a congregation sitting in the pews. We are going to come through this much better. We will be stronger. We are a family.“
St. Francis Episcopal Church in Denham Springs was established in 1953.
Karen Mackey has served as the communication director of the Diocese of Louisiana since 2014.