At a glance, what’s happening:
- The church ordained Phil Wells to the gospel ministry, and he is now serving as our missions pastor—what his first task? He’s headed to Poland in coordination with LBC Disaster Relief and Send Relief to work in the Ukrainian refugee camps there.
- We’ve also been responding to needs related to the tornado in Arabi.
- Adam and Gary have been working tirelessly to repair the damage to the building sustained in hurricane Ida.
- Jake Prescott is coming, with his family, to serve as our worship leader.
- Pastor Alex is now also serving as the Compassion Ministry Strategist for our denomination in greater New Orleans, furthering Vieux Carré’s role as a denominational center for ministry to the homeless and hurting.
- Alcoholics Anonymous and Inward ministries, ministering to women in the adult entertainment industry here in the Quarter, are restarting with VCBC as a base of operations.
- A number of our children’s workers are working with Crossroads NOLA to train in TBRI, a research-based approach to healing trauma in children, as a means of better caring for the foster children who are a part of our church through the Brian and Prescott families.
- Kallee, our children’s minister, and Josh got married! Phil and Pam are engaged.
One aspect of this work we don’t usually talk about: loss. Loss is always looming over deep-urban ministries. Mainly because the urban core is dangerous—there’s a reason not everyone wants to come to the Treme, or the Quarter, to live and work here. These are dangerous spaces. But especially working in spaces of homelessness and addiction, both situations are dangerous, and we lose a lot of people. A few months ago we went to a group memorial service (which alone is unsettling) for about 50 people we had known and ministered to. At least two of the names read, I had not previously known of their death.
One man who has been involved with the ministry for years, an outspoken atheist with whom we’ve shared the gospel probably hundreds of times, came by the other day to say goodbye. He was jaundiced, his liver failing, and we caught word of his passing about a week after we saw him. He was going home to see his family one last time. One of our partners shared the gospel with him, and I talked with him for a long time afterward about his father, who was a hellfire preacher and privately abused him, and how he had resolved at a young age, if he made it out of that household, never to have anything to do with the Church again. I prayed with him for grace and forgiveness in Christ, and he left.
In my mind, and more importantly in the Scriptures, the opposite of loss is family—true family, which in the Bible touches on the concepts of adoption and redemption. I preached a few weeks ago out of the book of Ruth on redemption and God’s heart for bringing people into families. As an adoptive father, this is a topic which means a lot to me. Ruth and Naomi both experience incredible loss, and God uses family to redeem and restore them both. The book ends with Ruth and Naomi enfolded into Boaz’s family, and with what would have been seen as a miraculous birth from a woman thought to be barren, one of many leading up to Jesus’ own miraculous birth.
The New Testament authors pick up on these concepts of redemption and adoption to talk about the way in which God is going to rescue humanity from sin and death, and the loss which comes alongside both—he’s going to redeem the church into his family, adopt us as sons into his inheritance. Family is always God’s way of turning back loss.
Since my last ministry update, we’ve done a lot of work in our church to be a healthy family. We’ve ironed out our membership process and welcomed new members. We’ve continued to meet together throughout the week in small groups and in discipleship. We ordained another pastor, Phil, whom many of you know, so not so much of the service and oversight of the congregation rests on me. We started a residency track and brought in some people wanting to add practical experience into their seminary training. We’ve added an element of outreach into the neighborhood to shower Fridays, as well, so we are reaching out to every population in our area.
But perhaps more importantly, we’ve reached out to other nearby churches and ministries to begin to coordinate our efforts and pray for each other. We can do more when we work together, and it’s not like there’s any shortage of people here in the city to invite into our churches. We aren’t in competition—we’re colaborers, brothers and sisters. Family. The healthier our family becomes, the more we start acting like the Church universal in the context of our city, the more God is able to heal and turn back loss in the lives of the people to whom we minister. May God continue to turn back sin and death in our lives and in the lives of the people around us until everything sad comes untrue.