While rebuilding church is top priority, growing church family ‘just as important’
The sheer devastation that the Lake Charles-based Emmanuel Baptist Church suffered at the hands of Hurricane Laura remains impossible to ignore, more than 10 months after the storm’s landfall last August.
Laura’s 150-mile-per-hour winds ripped off the front section of the sanctuary’s decking and slammed it through the office area. Michael Shamblin, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist since the fall of 2015, joked that the church, at 3626 Common St., is essentially now “an open air facility.” A homeless man, found sleeping on the church floor after the hurricane, keeps watch on the facility, he said.
Delays in starting construction stem from securing contractors that don’t already have dozens of jobs lined up, Shamblin said. A Texas-based company’s bid came back $200,000 over the $1.2 million the church’s insurance company estimated it would cost to restore the facility to its original condition. He said the church is soliciting bids from other companies.
The roughly 45-member congregation at Emmanuel Baptist still meets weekly for Sunday school, followed by a worship service, inside the fellowship hall of its sister church, University Baptist Church on Lake Street.
“They’ve been very kind, allowing us to meet there,” he said. “We’re grateful to have an air conditioned place to meet.”
Emmanuel Baptist was founded in 1946 as a church plant from Trinity Baptist Church and has been at the Common Street location since 1964. Shamblin, a retired educator, moved to Lake Charles so his wife, Renee, could work as an associate professor of nursing at McNeese State University. After helping smaller, rural churches, Shamblin came to Emmanuel Baptist to help the church grow its congregation. He also teaches social studies part time at Hackberry High School.
“I’m not good at staying home,” he said.
While rebuilding the church is a top priority, growing the church family is just as important, Shamblin said.
“It’s not like, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We need to build the body of the church back up and bring new believers, new Christians to the church,” he said. “This has given us a great opportunity to talk about that.”
Shamblin, 66, said he evacuated to Pineville on the eve of Hurricane Laura’s Aug. 27 landall. The church’s security company called him at 1:30 a.m. after the alarm system was triggered.
“I’m pretty sure that was when the roof went off,” he said.
Shamblin returned to Lake Charles the day after Laura and was stunned. The church was so severely damaged, he said he considered walking away as pastor.
However, an unexpected phone call from Ed Young, pastor of the Houston-based megachurch, Second Baptist Church, changed his outlook. At first, Shamblin said he thought a friend was playing a prank on him until he heard Young’s recognizable voice on the other line.
“He said, ‘We’re going to send busloads of people to help with debris removal.’ I was so encouraged that he would find a way to get my cell phone number and offer this help,” Shamblin said.
Shamblin and Renee visited Young at Second Baptist a few months later.
“We’re sitting in his office, and he’s in between filming services,” he said. “He’s 84 years old. He’s got 1,200 staff members. I thought, if this guy can keep working, I can.”
Repairing the church
Things initially moved quickly the day after Hurricane Laura, with a claim number and adjuster secured, Shamblin said. Within three weeks, the roof was removed, and mitigation work was done, which included stripping the facility down to the studs.
Since then, things have hit a snag, and the church continues to solicit bids to get the facility repaired. Shamblin said he hasn’t ruled out merging Emmanuel Baptist with other churches or being adopted by a larger church.
Family, friends and other smaller churches have donated roughly $40,000 toward the church’s $60,000 insurance deductible, Shamblin said. The church had $2.1 million in insurance coverage.
Shamblin said he looks forward to getting the church facility rebuilt. He drove home the point that the church was built to house a “gathering of believers,” something he hopes will grow at Emmanuel Baptist.
“That’s been the lesson for me,” he said. “It’s about building relationships with people that lets you rebuild. If we’re going to exist, it’s for one reason: we want to be a place to point people to Jesus exclusively,”
Hurricane Laura’s 150-mile-per-hour winds ripped off the front section of the sanctuary decking of Emmanuel Baptist Churc and slammed it through the office area.