A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Bayou La Batre: Week Two

In Bayou La Batre on June 4, 2013 at 8:14 pm

For Laney post Week 2  A Place of Refuge & Service

by Laney Payne

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Many people of the bayou do find comfort and rest within the walls of the Hemley Church of Christ on Sundays. However, rest is far from what you will see from the active members and supporters of the Bayou La Batre church who work seven days a week to create an atmosphere of love. From providing the community with non-perishable items, from noodles to cleaning products and colorful baby diapers, to making the rounds twice weekly in vans to pick up adults and children alike, the church reaches out to the people in the community.

“Other churches don’t give out food,” explained Brianna John, 14. “Other churches aren’t so laid back. Other churches don’t do what we do.” Coming together with the church of christcommon bond of a desire to serve, members from several congregations around the bayou gather three times a week to sort donated food, help fellow citizens seek financial assistance, and unload numerous truckloads of produce and items donated from companies like Wal-Mart, Panera Bread Company, and even local “U Pick It” farmers.

Founded in 2008, just after the devastating Hurricane Katrina swept the region flooding everything in her path, Hemley Church of Christ was built by people through hard work and perseverance for people who work hard and persevere. Established by William “Billy” Spaulding, Jr. and Daphne German, the church seeks to continually serve in the town that can be forgotten when storm-aftermath crews leave the community. After Hurricane Katrina, German recalls, “We had to use snow shovels to tear out the ceiling. The entire church was nearly 6 feet in water.”

This summer, Tyler Prior, 19, a St. Joseph’s University student visiting and working in Bayou La Batre, said,  “It’s a place where solidarity and unity can be built as people grow from their common experiences.” Prior, a native of New Jersey, said he enjoyed the informal nature of Hemley Church of Christ.  “Here, I’ve immersed myself in this culture of treating people right. I’d like to bring a piece of that back up north,” said Prior. “You see what’s really important in life.  People here are so content.”

The true virtue of “come as you are” is quickly appreciated as barefoot children scurry through the dirt drive in search of Mr. Billy’s famous biscuits and gravy.  Hemley Church of Christ does seem to take the message that “Jesus loves the little children” to heart. With nearly three children to every adult member, the churchyard always seems busy with young people from all over the bayou.  “The kids are so welcome, and they each play a part. They lead the singing and help out,” said Stephanie Brennan, a 22-year-old veteran on the St. Joseph University work crew. “I want to take them all home with me.” One teen church member, Taylor Roebuck, 16, said, “Our church really has changed the community.”

Laney 4Established in the 1950’s as Evangelist Methodist Church, the church has created an air of openness from a borrowed foundation and a conglomeration of donated items from churches of many backgrounds all over the world. Brightly crafted murals by artists from areas ranging from Honduras to Philadelphia cover the sanctuary and classrooms. An alter from Louisiana. A wood grain communion table from a local church that recently closed its doors. Sturdy wooden pews from the New Orleans Juvenile Detention Center. “The very worst that New Orleans had to offer sat in these pews.  Now the very finest the bayou has to offer sits here,” said German as she took a break from scrubbing shower stalls that serve as a bunkhouse for workers from all over the country.

The original stain glassed windows from the 1950’s spread vivid colors throughout the sacred sanctuary where members from all walks of life gather each Sunday. Without a full-time pastoral staff, the church schedules rotating preachers from all over the Gulf Coast, with even a few celebrities, such as the men from the hit A&E show “Duck Dynasty”, stopping by. “Some Sundays we will have 10 people in the pews; other weeks there isn’t an empty seat here,” German said.

One thing always remains the same: Hemley Church of Christ is always there. Against all odds, the small southern church, stitched together like a patchwork quilt from pieces of leftovers and donations, keeps their doors open to provide a place to worship. Staffed by hard working volunteers, shrimpers, grandmothers, waitresses, and barefoot children leading worship from song books nearly their size, Hemley Church of Christ is a place of refuge, service and support for the community.

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