Scattered by Katrina, Linked by a Church

The Rev. Franklin Burke is working to rebuild Good Faith Baptist Church in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward. Hurricane Katrina devastated the building and displaced its congregation.
The Rev. Franklin Burke is working to rebuild Good Faith Baptist Church in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward. Hurricane Katrina devastated the building and displaced its congregation. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 5, 2006

HAMMOND, La. -- They can see every stained-wood pew. They can hear every soaring, sweet gospel number. They can see every face in their flocks.

"Had 250 members. 'Course, they all didn't show up every Sunday. You know how that goes," the Rev. Franklin Burke says.

Good Faith Baptist Church, where Burke ministered for 11 years, stands in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward. Right there at 1703 Benton St. Which means that Hurricane Katrina bent it to its will. Bibles floated right down the street. The hurricane displaced Burke's congregation, wide and far.

Nearly a year has passed now, and in New Orleans whole neighborhoods remain vacant. Schools are quiet. And churches stand in painful silence. Hymnless places, the worshipers gone.

Their ministers, like Burke, have not stopped worrying and trying to find the ones they have yet to hear from. They wonder if the faithful will ever come back.

Burke and his wife, Lori, grab at the mail as soon as it arrives, scanning the return addresses for familiar names. "There's still about 30 people we haven't heard from," she says.

They'll pop up in the middle of the night and grab a ringing phone. Might be a church member in a faraway locale, calling collect from a phone booth.

"It's really taken a toll on him," Lori says of the husband she married back in 1978. They were junior high school sweethearts. He's well-built and deep-voiced. She's a full-figured woman whose voice is all Southern-sweet.

They finish each other's sentences as they sit on a Sunday afternoon in their new home here in Hammond, 60 miles northwest of New Orleans, trying to place all their members.

"Chante Fernandez, let's see, she's in Houston," she says. "She's a mother of two. She went there with Byron, her fiance."

"That's right," he says with a nod.

"Elder Debra Joseph. She's also in Houston," she says.


CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company