The Catholic Commentator

Being in “the same boat” during the flood of summer 2016 has united Immaculate Conception Church in Denham Springs and its parishioners in one heart and mind about its mission, according to pastor Father Frank Uter.

WhenTheWatersRose.pdf

An estimated 70 percent of homes in Livingston Civil Parish and 90 percent of homes in Denham Springs flooded this past summer.

“In some ways we wish we could be where we were (before the flood), in terms of parishioners being back in their homes, in terms of parish finances,” said Father Uter, noting “on the other hand” the entire domestic, church parish and community family experienced God’s graces by facing the challenge together.

“One thing that strikes me is that from day one after the flood our parish campus was in the same boat as parishioners in terms of rebuilding and trying to get back on track. It’s something we shared in a special way,” said Father Uter. “It’s unfortunate in one way, but it’s good that we could share it and do it together.

When all is said and done, I think it will make the parish stronger.”

The extent of the flood became apparent when ICC prepared to send out its Christmas cards to parishioners.

“You wouldn’t believe how many parishioners had changes of address that were out of state, in Baton Rouge and New Orleans,” said Father Uter. The church received notes from those who said they still wanted to be considered parishioners.

“That made me feel good,” said Father Uter, noting many have returned.

Far from “going under” during the toughest of times last summer, ICC immediately worked to get the church operational as soon as possible so Mass could be celebrated and staff could be situated. The church also became a flood relief hub, as volunteers poured in to provide meals, supplies and resources to help flood victims. ICC continues to be a host site for a flood grief support group hosted by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

The bond between Immaculate Conception and Denham Springs Elementary also grew as the school located its temporary campus on the church grounds.

Repair work to the sanctuary is among the last that needs to be done, according to Father Uter. Cabinets will be installed.

“After having a sanctuary with no cabinets and working lavatory, it will look strange to see a cabinet,” said Father Uter.

He said, for him, the reconstruction process after the flood is different than average renovation projects.

“We usually think of reconstruction in terms of painting and fixing up, but this is different in terms of we had to tear down before painting and fixing up,” said Father Uter.

Before the flood, ICC was focused on improving things around the campus, Father Uter said.

“But the real shift was focusing on person-to-person ministry. It brings you back to your mission,” said Father Uter. “The construction projects we were envisioning were good, but a lot of that has been put on the back burner. Focusing on serving people continues to be on the front burner.”

He said the council of ministries recently met and wants to focus on the parish being even more welcoming than before the flood. They would have people welcoming and answering questions from people coming to Mass.

Father Uter noted signs of rebirth and growth in the church. While the RCIA inquiry session is not slated to begin until Aug. 10, as of July more than 20 people had signed up for the inquiry session.

“I think that’s wonderful,” Father Uter said. “… You might think with people suffering, their thoughts might not be on their relationship with God. This shows that they might be going in that direction.

“I think there was an initial shock, but over the months, people have grown beyond that. Perhaps with God’s grace they are better for it spiritually.”

As far as the church, Father Uter said it was hard to establish communications immediately after the flood.

“But now it’s back and better and stronger,” said Father Uter. “Things were good before, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be better … So many people have been involved. It made me appreciate it even more.”

Father Uter said the church will “definitely do something” to mark the one year anniversary of the flood, but details were still being worked out.

In looking up the Gospel passage for that anniversary, Sunday, Aug. 13, Father Uter noted the Gospel reading will be the passage in St. Matthew in which the disciples are tossed around in a boat in a storm until Jesus gets in the boat with them and calms the waters.

“You better believe it,” said Father Uter when asked if the passage is generating some good homily ideas.