Committed church elder shepherds growing congregation in Lower Ninth Ward - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Committed church elder shepherds growing congregation in Lower Ninth Ward

The sanctuary of Disciples of Christ Christian Fellowship Ministry in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The pews were donated by the congregation of Salem Church on Staten Island. (Anthony C. Hayes)

The restored sanctuary of the Disciples of Christ Christian Fellowship Ministry in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The pews were donated by the Salem Evangelical Free Church of Staten Island, New York. (Anthony C. Hayes)

New Orleans – Darrell Turner is not the kind of man most would see as a risk-taker. As Executive Chef for the Federal Reserve Bank in New Orleans, Turner is used to weighing every decision he makes very carefully. So perhaps the last thing Darrell Turner ever expected, in the wake of the flooding brought by Hurricane Katrina, was that he would someday find himself wading in the waters of a baptismal pool. Yet that is where Elder Turner may occasionally be found, as part of his pastoral duties at the Disciples of Christ Christian Fellowship Ministry in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.

How did a cautious Christian layman, who was content with his steady government day job, come to have a second career as the pastor of a new church in an area most Americans had given up on?

“We were always in church before Katrina hit,” began Turner. “I served as an elder at Good Faith Baptist. Like a lot of other congregations, they were slowly coming back, but post-Katrina, I was in-and-out.

Rev. Darrell Turner of the Disciples of Christ Christian Fellowship Ministry in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. (Courtesy)

Elder Darrell Turner. (Courtesy)

“There was the stress of a 3½ hour commute, while my family lived in Brandon, Mississippi. It took several years for me to get my home rebuilt after the storm. Once that was mostly complete, we tried to get back into the normalcy of our life. That was a big key for us. So I spent a lot of time at ‘Bedside Baptist Church.’ I’d get up in the morning and watch services on television. But since I was always active in the ministry, being involved with a church was something I wanted to do again.

“While seeking God’s will in our lives, we attended Good Faith and a few other churches. I guess that’s when God gave my wife Sandra and I a vision to start our own ministry. That took the shape of a nursing home ministry we did through Good Faith until 2013. But when they decided they didn’t want to continue that particular outreach, that’s when I and two other elders decided to start a separate ministry to the aged.

“Serving shut-ins is what we did every 2nd and 4th Sunday for the next year. Then people started asking us about conducting a home Bible Study. I said, ‘Wait a minute, not so fast – we’re just doing this nursing home ministry.’ But after some prayerful consideration, we went ahead and started doing a Bible class. Not long after that, people began asking, ‘Now, when are we gonna have a church?’

“So, from that, our present ministry was birthed in Nov. 2013.”

Expanding their ministry from nursing home halls into assorted living rooms meant Turner was faced with another set of difficult challenges.

“After some prayerful consideration, we went ahead and started doing a Bible class.” (Wikimedia)

“We started by holding meetings in my brother’s shop and did that for about a year, but he wanted to rent out the space, so we moved the meetings to my house. At that point, I could never imagine that we would be buying a church building. That was never our intention, but the more we progressed with our fellowship, the more we saw the need to expand beyond the walls of the house.”

Turner acknowledged that some of the Bible Study members had raised the issue of purchasing a modest worship facility. There was a need, but he was skeptical. “Frankly, we had no money to buy a building. And in truth, I didn’t think that was where God was leading me. But we took a step in faith to arrange a meeting to look at our present location.

“This was a church which had been destroyed by Katrina. Rebuilding would be a tremendous undertaking for our small fellowship. But after speaking with the former pastor and wrestling in my mind that I had just rebuilt my house and did NOT want to get back into the construction business – plus not having the money – I sat down and I asked myself, ‘How can we make this happen?’

“Then I got a vision to offer $15,000 flat.

“From there, I worked out what I believed would be a feasible financial plan. So, we met with the former pastor, and we just stood for a while looking at the water damage and the holes on the roof. Finally I said, ‘How much do you want for this building?’ And he said, ‘Give me $15,000.’

“At that point, I knew this had to be God’s plan.

“We ended up raising the entire amount and paid for the building in cash. But we still needed to do the renovation, and we had no money for that. I’d drive by the building, look at it and pray, ‘Dear God, you’ve got to help us here.’”

Little did Turner know that the help he needed was already looking for him as well.

Elder Darrell Turner with ReachGlobal volunteer Peter Burnsdorf. (Facebook)

“One of the neighbors had a team from ReachGlobal Crisis Response working on their house. The supervisor asked, ‘Do you know of anybody else who could use our services?’ And the neighbors said, ‘Well, there is this pastor down the street who is trying to get this church put back together.’

“There was some miscommunication at first, and it took a few calls before we were able to connect. But once we spoke and I shared our vision to help the community, ReachGlobal came right on board.

“The only issue moving forward was ReachGlobal did not have the money for such an expansive rebuilding project. They did, however, offer manpower and promised a crew of thirty young people over the Christmas holiday, if we could somehow raise the funds to purchase the material.

“Ernie Schutte (the area supervisor from ReachGlobal) handed me a materials list, and we went over what we would need to get started. I took that list with me to The Home Depot, applied for credit, and procured about a thousand dollars worth of building materials. Certainly enough to get the ball rolling.”

Topping the agenda would be refurbishing the damaged roof – a labor-intensive task that seasoned professionals will freely admit is truly a young person’s game.

“The first day the volunteer crews arrived, there were kids on that roof literally hanging on for dear life. I yelled up, ‘If you are scared, then please get off the roof. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.’ But the next day, they went up those ladders and went right back to work. By the end of the week, they were running across the roof with nail guns and pneumatic hoses, yelling, ‘Bring up more shingles.’

“Within two weeks time, we had the roof of our church building replaced for under $7,000.

“That was the beginning of our journey with ReachGlobal. They have been so faithfully active.

“A crew from Puerto Rico arrived and built the pulpit.” (Anthony C. Hayes)

“God sent us help from New York all the way to Hawaii. A crew from Puerto Rico arrived and built the pulpit. A church on Staten Island sent us their used pews. And when the driver who delivered the pews told his church in Pennsylvania what he saw us doing, they donated the materials and the labor to sheet rock the entire building. It took about 2½ years, but we were finally able to move in and dedicate the building. And we’re close to paying off our credit debt.

“Early on, a woman stopped by to see what was happening. She asked, ‘How do you expect to rebuild this building if your congregation only has twenty members?’ I told her, ‘Don’t you know that when you have God, you already have a majority?’

“Twenty of us were not going be able to do this alone, and there were times when we had to stop the work to raise more money, but that was okay. We knew that this was God’s project, and He would make it happen. Today we have about sixty members.

“Through all of this, it has clarified our belief that this is God’s project. We had to trust in people who have no personal stake in New Orleans. All we could see at first was the effect of Katrina on that terribly damaged building. But God provided the ultimate plan, even before we started.”

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Editor’s note: This is the 31st part of an ongoing series which looks at the places and people that make up the rich history and diverse nature of spirituality, belief and observance in Baltimore and beyond. Read the series here.

About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony's poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, "Thou shalt not steal." Contact the author.

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