Pastor ‘goes with flow’ as he helps church, conference recover

His prayer is the same every day: "Lord show me my flexibility."

The Rev. Darryl Tate, director of the United Methodist Church's Louisiana Conference Storm Recovery Center, is good at "going with the flow" and "keeping his cool" since Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast in August and the 17th Street Canal broke in New Orleans flooding his Lakeview church and home.

St. Luke's United Methodist Church, where Tate was senior pastor before the storm, is back open and holding services. The original sanctuary, with a floor-to-ceiling stained-glass wall, is clean but empty. Services are held in a small room next door.

The 90-plus congregation sit in metal folding chairs instead of on purple pew cushions, but life is returning to the church. Roses are blooming in the courtyard.

"They are hoping to have the nursery open by late summer or September," Tate says. "A family camp is set for the last weekend of March."

An enthusiastic electrician pokes his head in the back door. "We are going to have you back to full power," he announces. "Tell the church the electricians are working for you! We are even putting up some Sheetrock."

Tate smiles, shakes his hand and says, "Thank you brother."

Continuing his tour through the wall-less bottom floor of the church, Tate says help has poured into the church from across the country. Queen Anne United Methodist Church in Seattle has pledged to raise $20,000 as part of its 100th anniversary this year for St. Luke's. Trinity-Gentilly, a nearby United Methodist church, donated school supplies for the church school when it reopens.

Wistfully, Tate opens the door to his old office. "It is the prettiest office in the state of Louisiana," he says.

"It was like living in a tree house," he says, pointing to huge oak trees outside the windows whose branches cradle the office.

Tate will not be returning as pastor at St. Luke's but will continue in his role as the conference's storm recovery director.

"In my 28 years of ministry, I have never had a ministry this rewarding," he says. "I am really touching the lives of humans. You know, so often we just play church in the church, but I am really in ministry."

Plan for rebuilding

Bishop William W. Hutchinson, who leads the Louisiana Conference, has announced a mission-based plan for rebuilding New Orleans' United Methodist churches affected by Hurricane Katrina. The plan - which does not call for any church closings at this point - is based on a system of seven groups of Mission Zone Cooperative Parishes.

Thirty-eight New Orleans-area churches have been identified for the seven Mission Zones. Each zone will be directed by a clergy team, headed by a designated team leader. The team will develop creative ways to bring church ministry to the areas served by the churches in the group.

Lake Vista, St. Luke's, Brooks and Trinity-Gentilly will form Group Seven in the new plan.

"It really puts the power back in the hands of the people," Tate says.

Six storm relief/recovery stations have been set up in the state: Eastbank, Westbank, Uptown, Slidell, Lake Charles and Abbeville. An executive case manager will be based in New Orleans, and each station has a director, assistant director, volunteer coordinator and case managers.

"Slidell is well into rebuilding, New Orleans is still gutting and mucking, Abbeville and Lake Charles are close to rebuilding," Tate says.

By the end of March, 1 million volunteer hours representing the work of thousands of people will have been clocked by the conference, bringing in $20.4 million in in-kind services, Tate notes. "The general church has been great."

Personal journey continues

Walking through the remains of his once "pretty little house," Tate is grateful for the kindness shown to him and his family as they recover from the storm that took most of their possessions.

"All the crystal and china was saved, and all my chalices were recovered," he says. "We found most of my daughter's quarter collection."

Bishop Violet Fisher, New York West Area, brought a team of 21 to New Orleans and cleaned out Tate's home and the home of the Rev. Freddie Henderson, New Orleans District superintendent.

"She called later and said, 'We took care of your stuff, brother.'" Fisher says she found credit cards in the street and clothes in the closet with the price tags still attached. "His personal stuff was just scattered everywhere," she says.

Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge has donated its parsonage to Tate and his family. The parsonage Tate lived in was destroyed. He received a check for $305.05 to cover the contents of his refrigerator and nothing else.

"We have been in six houses in the past six months," he says. "We will move into our new home March 31."

Tate is concerned about the next hurricane season, which starts in June. He is putting into place a plan whereby every pastor will have contact with another pastor in the state, in case a storm knocks out communication as in 2005. "I want every pastor in the south to have a contact in the north," he says.

On the way out of his old house, Tate notices a string of Mardi Gras beads draped over a yard sign printed by the conference that says, "United Methodists of Louisiana Care About You."

Getting back in his car, he says, "Those came from our house." He shakes his head and smiles, demonstrating God's answer to his daily prayer: flexibility.
 

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].

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