La. tornado destroys church, delays seminary chapel

Published: February 21, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — An EF-3 tornado that touched down in eastern New Orleans Feb. 7 heavily damaged a Southern Baptist church’s facility and briefly interrupted a chapel service at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Initial reports estimated 250 homes damaged with 31 people injured. No fatalities were reported.

The tornado — one of several to strike Louisiana Tuesday — devastated the three-building campus of Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans, a predominately African American congregation. Pastor Jeffery Friend and his wife Stephanie were not injured, though their home was heavily damaged, Stephanie Friend told Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.

Friend posted on Facebook that she is “praising God for lives spared” but “devastated at the loss of our church and our home.”

Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers arrived Feb. 8 to assess damage to the Friends’ home, the church campus and a pastorium occupied by a New Orleans Seminary student and his family.

“I know who Jesus is,” Stephanie Friend said according to a report from New Orleans Seminary, “so I’m not concerned about my well-being. I’m just trusting Him to do what He does.”

Suburban Baptist and its neighborhood also sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The New Orleans Baptist Association is providing a room for the Friends at Providence House, the hotel operated by New Orleans Seminary.

“Please join us in prayer for churches and families affected by the severe weather in our region today,” the association said in an email. “Early reports tell of severe damage to at least one church, Suburban Baptist, and several homes in New Orleans East.”

At New Orleans Seminary, President Chuck Kelley began a chapel service with an announcement about potential storms and a prayer for the region. When weather intensified some five minutes later, campus police interrupted the service and attendees sheltered in place.

The tornado touched down about three miles away before passing. The service resumed in 10-15 minutes, and no damage to the campus was reported.

Later in the day, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief workers gathered at the seminary’s Leavell Center for Church Growth and Evangelism in preparation for assessing damage in the area.

Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief director Gibbie McMillan told volunteer DR workers, “What we’re trying to do is be the hands and feet of Jesus to (storm victims) and let them know we care in a tangible way.”

Several Louisiana communities were hit hard with severe weather, with the National Weather Service reporting tornado touchdowns Tuesday in multiple communities between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. (BP)