"Up from the Flood"
A Rotation Sunday School's ten year recovery from Hurricane Katrina
This summer, we received wonderful news from First United Methodist in Slidell, Louisiana. Ten years after Hurricane Katrina had devastated their sanctuary and Sunday School rooms, their Sunday School is finally back in its own space and they will launch a full-version of the Rotation Model starting next month.
The following comes from Rotation board member Anne Camp's interview with Heidi Weber, Director of Children's Ministry at Slidell. Prepare to be inspired.
"Up from the Flood"
An interview with Heidi Weber, DCE, First UMC, Slidell Louisiana
Twenty years ago my husband and I put down roots and started to raise a family in New Orleans. We joined the First United Methodist Church in Slidell (a N.O. suburb) and I started assisting Reverend Carolyn Foster, the Director of Christian Education. She was using Rotation Sunday School every summer and I helped.
Then ten years ago in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck.
Five feet of storm surge destroyed our church building causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Soon afterwards, Carolyn retired and I was named Director of Children’s Ministry.
First United Methodist, Slidell, Louisiana, as Katrina's 2005 floodwaters started to recede.
I felt led by God to help rebuild our community. Over the next three years I studied to become a certified Christian educator and learn how I could help heal our broken community. In my course of study, I was assigned a little book called Workshop Rotation: A New Model for Sunday School, by Melissa Armstrong-Hansche and Neil MacQueen.
Early on in our recovery, we met in a church across town, while our sanctuary was gutted and cleaned down to the studs. When the sanctuary was ready, we got a "recovery trailer" for the kids. One of the “saints” of the church said, “When are you gonna start Sunday school again for the kids?” "Sunday school?" I thought, "we don't even have crayons yet!"
God answered our prayers one need at a time.
New furniture and lots of help to assemble it. Supplies. Crayons! And www.rotation.org for lesson plans.
At first, we created our "workshops" in the newly rebuilt gym, hallways, and porch. Anywhere we could set up a class we did. People said, "You can't do rotation in the corners of a gym!" But that’s all we had, so we did, for nearly 8 years. Beats a FEMA trailer, that's for sure ;-)
Each Saturday we would roll out a supply cart and set up tables and chairs which other churches had donated to us. Even in our temporary set up, the workshops were so amazing that the kids "minded"--they were learning about Jesus and having fun. Still, we held on to the vision of exciting Sunday school workshops, not the bleak boring rooms we had lost, and certainly not staying in the corners of the gym and hallways.
My biggest challenge through it all was the fatigue and exhaustion of rebuilding. You hear the old-timers talk about Hurricane Betsy. Camille. Andrew. About Haiti. And now I get it. You don't just lose property, or money, or just sleep--you lose community and people, and hope. ...But you also rediscover them.
One of the most humbling and inspiring aspects of recovery was seeing God’s Army come from all over to help us rebuild, and to see church members reach deep in their pockets and prayers. We saw the power of Mother Nature, and we saw the power of people acting in God's name. It is humbling to be on the receiving end of God’s grace. Time and time again our needs were met by nothing short of a miracle.
After yet another amazing gift from a member, furniture started to arrive, and people were calling me to ASK to teach! People started walking in, seeing what was happening, and crying tears of long awaited joy!
Rotation kids studying I Cor 13 and making a chain of love.
Even as we met in the gym, we taught lessons that helped us understand what we were going through. Rotation.org helped me imagine our space. We took one of the Paul lesson suggestions from rotation.org--using the "chains" idea that Neil had posted to talk about how we were in bondage from the storm--but God could break those chains! Our first "full" Rotation next month will be "Jesus Calms the Storm!" Can you believe it?
A photo of our new treehouse themed gathering space. Trees coming!
Rotation.org has been a godsend. In the midst of rebuilding, I poured over your workshop photos and scoured the lesson forums. I joined the Rotation.org Writing Team and helped review lessons during the 2013 Forum Renovation project. I’ve also taken my volunteers to the website for training and inspiration. Our leaders, teachers, parents and students love the hands-on aspect of Rotation. And its vision for "new and improved" Sunday School fits with our congregation's renewed sense of mission.
And now finally it’s here. This Sunday, August 30, 2015, ten years and a day since Katrina, we are dedicating our new Sunday School and unveiling our workshops.
I want to thank all of you at rotation.org and the Board. You have no idea how much it means to our church. I didn’t feel alone recovering from Katrina. I had your support not just for our children’s spiritual formation, but for our adults as well, as Rotation gives them a way to use their gifts.
A lot of churches closed their doors after Katrina, and ours was physically devastated to the core. But Rotation Sunday School was one of the things that inspired us to rebuild. It has rekindled our passion and creativity for helping children learn about and follow Jesus. Our vision inspired one member to furnish the entire Sunday School wing, and countless others to step up (when so much had already been taken from them, and asked of them in rebuilding).
Katrina wiped out our building, but not our church. We are eternally grateful for all the ways and amazing people God sent to rebuild our building and revive us for his glory.
First UMC, Slidell, LA
Special thanks to Heidi Weber for sharing her church's story and photos with us. You can contact Heidi at firstname.lastname@example.org or by posting a message on her Profile Wall at Rotation.org.
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Few of us can match Heidi's journey, or would ever want to, but if you have a great rotation story of your own, let us know.