New Orleans — Hurricane Katrina was a catastrophic event that forced many people in New Orleans to start over. Since then, several hurricanes, such as Ivan and Gustav, continued to damage some of the oldest and most significant historical sites in the United States. One of the sites in jeopardy is the Wesley United Methodist Church, which is the second oldest African American church in New Orleans and the eighth oldest African American Church in the U.S.
During the 19th century, slaves built Wesley United Methodist Church brick by brick. Not only did they work on the church every evening after working tirelessly in the fields, but they also worked all day on Sundays, which was their only “day off.” Slaves built the church in order to accommodate events that were held during their free time. They used the bottom level of the church for entertainment, gatherings, and other meetings while the second floor consisted of a sanctuary filled with hand-crafted pews.
Wesley United was also a part of the Underground Railroad, functioning as a stopping point and hiding place for slaves who were trying to escape to freedom. By walking through the church, one is filled with a feeling of being close to the slaves who worked so hard in order to have something they could call their own. The founders would be heartbroken if they saw the current state of the church.
Strong winds and floodwaters from several recent hurricanes left the church in bad shape. The foundation is still intact but there are several problems because of water and wind damage. The neighborhood is extremely optimistic that volunteer measures will be taken to preserve the history that rests in this church.
However, the church’s 400 members were recently devastated when they heard the news that their church could be demolished if not restored. For three years these members have been unable to pray or have service in their church. Wesley United is the only place where many members found a sense of peace and happiness. These members lost everything they had in Hurricane Katrina and are now worried that they may lose their only place of peace and happiness during trying times.
George Francis, a lifelong member of Wesley, is deeply saddened by this situation. “My mother and father grew up in this church and were married here. I have been a member since I was a baby. My heart is here, at Wesley church,” said Francis. Ashley Gibson has been a member of Wesley for the past 9 years. “I lost so much during the storm and the only thing that kept me going was my faith in God and my church family. Finding out that our church may not be coming back has only reopened the wounds that we’ve been trying to heal since Katrina,” said Gibson.
Even though major work has to be done in the building, the history and importance of the church are still there. Common Ground Relief, a local grassroots community group, is working to raise funds and obtain supplies needed to make the necessary repairs for the church. The cost of the repairs is estimated at over one million dollars due to structural issues. The good news is that the church has been gutted out and the pews have been taken apart and sanded down. However, that’s only the beginning of what needs to be done and Common Ground Relief, along with the Wesley Church congregation, need your help.
A major part of US history will be lost if the church is unable to acquire adequate resources because it will be demolished. Future generations need to witness this important part of history and the people of New Orleans need this church as a reminder that after the storm, they can always hold on to their history and their faith. Call Common Ground Relief‘s Sakura Kone’ at 1-504- 401-2101 for more information about how you can help this effort, or to make any financial contributions, log on to www.savewesleyunited.org.
Sakura Kone’ is Director of Media Relations for SaveWesleyUnited.org, as well as a member of Common Ground Relief and Rebuild Green.