U.S. Gulf Coast Churches Plan to Rebuild

United Methodist pastors throughout the Gulf Coast region are rolling up their sleeves to raise the pews back up and rebuild the churches that Katrina devastated more than three months ago.

"A part of me had been feeling like, I don't want to see it," said the Rev. Connie Thomas whose two churches in New Orleans were flooded, according to the United Methodist News Service. "But at the same time, I realize that there's work that has to be done, and it's time to roll our sleeves up and start doing what we can to make it a church again."

Addressing the challenges and needs of the affected congregations, 60 pastors from Louisiana and Mississippi gathered for a retreat on Nov. 30 - Dec. 2. Themed "Staying Connected and Being Renewed," the retreat brought the church leaders back to the feelings of pain and loss but provided a sense of inspiration to rebuild one step at a time.

"I heard a Hindu proverb that we've been using in our church, and folks seem to have latched on to this," the Rev. Jerry Hilbun, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Slidell, told UMNS. "And the proverb teaches that if you have to eat an elephant, you can only do it one bite at a time."

Separate from the relief efforts of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the pastors are appealing for support for church recovery and reconfiguration.

"People from all over the country, in fact all over the world, have come to help. It may be the church's finest hour that we are coming together to overcome this disaster," said Hilbun.

While rebuilding plans are still uncertain, residents see hope in the process as churches remain a critical element in communities amid the emotional loss and growing depression.

"The church was struggling, but we have never given up our desire for this church to remain open," said Ford Willoughby, a member of Napoleon United Methodist Church. "And we don't intend to do so now."