A Beachhead of Hope When Hurricanes Come Knocking
When Hurricane Katrina blasted into New Orleans on August 29, 2005, resulting in unimaginable loss of life and property, Matt Woodward was the College Pastor for Christ Church of the Valley in Phoenix(a Stadia strategic partner). He had grown up in that church, so core values such as people matter infinitely to God and leading with strength, resolve, and compassion in the face of adversity were ones he observed and absorbed as a kid. The tragedy in New Orleans broke his heart, so he left his position on the church staff to participate in the massive relief and recovery efforts that stretched from weeks to months to years.
Now on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, an even more powerful hurricane impacted the Louisiana coast and affect multiple other states (and the impact sadly continues up through the south and Midwest to the northeast). Fortunately, the loss of life with Hurricane Ida so far has been much less than Katrina. Yet, the wind damage, torrential and incessant rains (4-5 inches per hour and it stalled over New Orleans grinding for about 6 hours), and immense storm surge took a massive toll. The Gathering, which Matt and Andrea Woodward planted with Stadia assistance in the spring of 2007, had its facility roof ripped 100% off so water damage inside is extensive. Matt lost most all his library which was extensive and other ministry resources. Fortunately, the building was not compromised by storm surge. The church runs a coffee shop on the property which provides meaningful employment for many under-resourced people from the immediate neighborhood and is a “go-to” spot in the St. Bernard Parish and Arabi, LA for fellowship and community. The roof remained intact, and the damage is fortunately minimal.
Power is now out to all New Orleans and Matt is hearing that it could easily be 1-2 weeks before electrical restoration occurs. Fuel is in short supply as so many businesses and residences use gas-powered generators for electrical production. Food will be in short supply soon. AT&T is completely shut down so digital communication is hampered; however, Verizon seems to have survived. The Gathering church family largely had evacuated ahead of Ida to places like Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, and Missouri. There are no reported deaths or serious injuries among The Gathering church members and attenders.
Matt anticipates an insurance review of the church building within a few days. Sadly, for partners of The Gathering – five vital, need-meeting non-profits who call the church’s facilities “home” -are now displaced. Many other non-profits network and partner with The Gathering -a real, live example of what Stadia has recently been studying and promoting –the multi-modal church –one church, many expressions.
The Woodward personal residence was swamped by 15-foot storm surge pouring over a levee wall and as far as they know, it is a total loss. Matt (pastor, civic leader, and adjunct professor of leadership for a community college), Andrea (high school assistant principal), Roman (high school senior), Justus (high school junior), and Kennedy (ten-year-old, 5th grade daughter) managed to evacuate with items of value, necessity, and sentimentality while storing what they could in the upper-most part of the attic. They are unable to return to their home currently to secure or inspect it. Insurance assessment is no doubt many days away. The Woodwards are staying with a family from The Gathering whose home was close to the functioning levee and on higher ground. The Woodwards anticipate short-term evacuation soon until power and other essential services are restored.They may stay with friends in Florida or Texas. Emotionally they are in reasonably good spirits knowing that they are safe as a family and what is now lost can all be replaced. None of the schools that the family members serve/attend were flooded and should be able to re-open soon after power is restored.
Please pray for and with Matt and Andrea, their family, The Gathering, their many community partners, and the displaced people of New Orleans. If you or your congregation would like to contribute to the Hurricane Ida Relief Fund of The Gathering, click here. Your gifts will be used with wisdom, discretion, unselfishness, and love so in every situation God’s gets the glory.
John has been engaged in the starting of new churches since 1983 as a strategist, coach, professor, and concept pioneer. He has filled a variety of roles with Stadia since 2004. John is approaching 50 years of ordained ministry having led churches in 5 locations – one of which he planted in 1994. He and his wife, Leslie, live in Fort Myers FL and have 3 married children and 6 grandchildren.