A Project for Students and Citizens

Bayou La Batre

church of christ

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.

Laney 4“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 common 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.”

Established 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 spreads 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 week’s 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.


Bayfront Park Offers Quiet Escape

By Laney C. Payne

Bayfront Park, much like the people of Bayou La Batre, offers a treasure of hope that one might miss in the blink of an eye. Adorned by towering pines and thick palmettos 8844901927_82f02e59d1swaying in the breeze, Bayfront Park offers an oasis of peace and reflection for anyone who enters through its rusted yellow gates.  “I’ve met people from all over the world here,” said Twin City Security Officer Laurel Gill. “From Australia to Germany, they all stop through. That’s the best part of the job.”  Set just off the highway, Bayfront Park offers a children’s play area, covered picnic tables, nature trails winding through the coastal habitat, and benches where visitors can enjoy a glowing orange sunset just over the Dauphin Island Bridge.

“It’s so quiet here,” said Gill, as she turned from reading her Bible in the small cinderblock office nestled behind collections of fading driftwood.   For many, the park offers a much-needed break from the demands of the bayou. From hard manual labor to financial worries to family troubles or illness, the park seems to possess the power to take it all away.

“During my battle with breast cancer, I would just go out there and sit, ”  said Bayou La Batre resident Daphne German. “As the waves came in and out, I’d imagine them taking all the sickness away.” Now free of breast cancer with no chemo treatments or painful radiation, German swears that healthy living and her reflection at Bayfront Park changed her life.  “You can solve a lot of problems on your feet,” said Bayou La Batre resident Cynthia Jackson. A frequent visitor of the park, Jackson brings her son Adam to walk twice a day every day. After waving to Officer Gill, Jackson explained how the park has helped her get away from it all and keep her head on straight. “People can’t find me here, and I want to keep it that way,” she said.

Bayfront Park offers just that: a hide-away from the hustle and bustle for a moment of peace and a reminder of the purity of the beautiful place the people of the bayou call8844914103_789e76e764 home. Listed as number 46 on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, the park provides a natural habitat to birds ranging from egrets to kingfishers.  Local and migratory species alike take advantage of the artificial nesting boxes located throughout the park. In addition to birding, Bayfront Park visitors come to enjoy windsurfing, crabbing, fishing, and swimming.   “We always have cyclists come through to enjoy the view, ” said Gill. “Whatever the reason, they all end up here.”

As barges move up and down the channel with sea-going boats, it is easy to sit and enjoy the soft heat of the sun on your face and get lost in the wonder of the beauty of the region. “Look around, how can you not like it here, “ Jackson asks. “It’s where I do all my thinking and figure everything out. After this, I’ll finally get a good night of sleep.” As you cross through the yellow gates and continue down the rocky road, one can quickly understand the meaning of “island time.” Gill reflected, “Sometime, I have to turn my head and not ask questions. We have all kinds of people, and some need the time here more than others.”

8844910269_1746ed6939In Bayou La Batre one can find a vibrant Buddhist temple adorned with hand-painted dragons and strings of flowers just down the road from a Baptist church filled with women dressed in their Sunday best. One common bond is meeting the need to reflect in a quite place.  And Bayfront Park offers just that: a place to get away and get within themselves again, a sacred experience. “It offers a healin’ type of spirit,” explained Jackson. Lacking a fancy sign and elegant entrance, Bayfront Park, much like the people who frequent it, may not get much notice, but this sacred place in nature possesses the power to change those who venture down the dirt road.

Horizon Ship Building anchored in the Bayou


By Laney C. Payne

Coated in a thin veneer of dust from the light sand beneath their feet, hundreds of exhausted men file out of the rusted metal gate like children at the sound of the recess bell. Their smiles especially big today, with a large crisp envelope containing a check from the week’s hard earned pay tucked daintily under their grease-rubbed arms.

“We’ll run you over out here girl,” said a man behind dark lenses sheltered under a scuffed yellow hard hat showing wear from many days welding in the hull.8655666667_52d3da5d59_m

One quickly learns to hold their own at the shipyard. “Hold your head high,” said another man rummaging through a rusted red toolbox, “this work can eat you alive if you let it. You gotta’ love that manual labor like it’s all ya’ got.”

At Horizon, climbing the weathered steel metal stairs is a literal climb up the corporate ladder. Towering three stories above the vast shipyard sprinkled with massive blocks or metal soon to the sculpted into vessels ready for the sea sits the wood-paneled offices of the few men in collared shirts. “This is where the boss man sees it all,” said a security guard as his radio hummed a slight buzz through the hall.

Within the offices high above the sparks and hammering of the busy yard below sits President Travis Short. “Got my own porch, best view in the bayou,” said Short.

“Been workin’ here since Daddy brought me up for my interview. Damn lucky to have it,” said Steven McAllister, another proud Horizon employee.

Anyone who drives by the Horizon building around 4 p.m. on a Friday can see the hard work and pride that flows from the clusters of leather-faced men with lunch pails in hand.

What one would not realize is the many years of struggle that each of those same men have faced. From the oil spill to recent battles against hurricanes, Bayou residents have faced the decision of stay or leave.

“It’s all we know,” said McAllister, “and they are not going to have to chase us off.”

The hundreds of employees at Horizon Ship Building, Inc. have done just that. They have dug their steel toed boots deep into the shipyard dirt and put their hands to work. They love what they do. Together, Horizon men are rebuilding steel vessels for the sea while rebuilding the community they call home.

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