LAFITTE, La. — It’s been more than a year since the
Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by oil giant British Petroleum, exploded in
the Gulf of Mexico, just 41 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers
and contaminating waters that are home to the state’s large fishing industry.
Once oil began washing ashore, federal officials for a season prohibited
fishing in the once-prolific waters.
Remarkably, area pastors say their congregations are stable, if not thriving,
as the largest marine oil spill in history became a blessing in disguise for
the local economy. Still, they express concern about the spill’s potential
long-term effects on the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem and
“There’s definitely concern about how this is going to play out in the long run
and the unknown,” said Eddie Painter, a then-commercial fisherman who now
pastors Barataria Baptist
Church in Lafitte. “Actually,
it was a backdoor blessing for us. It provided some tremendous ministry
The cleanup effort allowed Painter’s church the chance to minister to the
community in a unique way. On most days during the cleanup, the church
delivered some 200 meals to area senior citizens and missions centers as far
away as New Orleans, using excess
food prepared for British Petroleum cleanup workers.
“The hours were long for the ministry,” Painter said of the church’s efforts. “It
was seven days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day.”
But he and leaders of other Baptist churches along the Louisiana
coast say their ministries have been blessed despite the upheaval.
“From all the reports I’m getting, everything is looking pretty good,” said
Lynn Rodrigue, who leads Port Sulphur
where about 60 worship on Sundays. “I would say basically, now everything is
back to normal. (The spill) really turned things upside down for a while.
“The giving is back to normal and the attendance is back up. I think actually
the oil spill was a blessing to many people financially. I know some people who
made $300,000 or $400,000 in six months.”
Fishermen were able to make money by leasing their boats to British Petroleum
during cleanup efforts and, to Rodrigue’s knowledge, there were no reports of
related health concerns in his congregation of more than 100. While litigation
attorneys have been calling, Rodrigue said he’s had no need to respond.
Now that fishing has resumed, Rodrigue said he has talked with area fishermen
who are enjoying big catches.
“They’re catching oysters. They were making like 100 sacks a day, which is
really good for oysters,” he said.
At nearby Venice Baptist
Church, pastor Steve
McNeil reports that his small congregation of 12 worshipers includes one family
of fishermen who leased two boats to British Petroleum during the cleanup and
have now returned to fishing.
“He’s done well. God has blessed him before, during and after the spill,”
“By and large, our community benefited financially in the short term. This year
appears to be a good year,” the pastor said. “The main effect was a (temporary)
lifestyle change,” he said, though noting that some families have been
At Barataria Baptist, Painter, a bivocational pastor at the time of the spill,
was preparing to resume crabbing on his boat when the explosion occurred in
March 2010. He opted to hire two workers and lease his boat to haul ice during
the cleanup. Painter sold his boat several weeks ago to concentrate on being a
pastor and obtaining a master of divinity degree at New Orleans Baptist
Theological Seminary (NOBTS).
Shortly after the spill, officials and cleanup workers descended upon the
community in droves, and fishermen had to temporarily find a new livelihood.
“Our little community looked like somebody kicked over an ant hill,” Painter
said. “Our mayor did a great job of getting most of our people employed with (British
After the spill, Barataria Baptist participated in the Unlimited Partnership
New Orleans program that places NOBTS seminarians in part-time ministry
positions at struggling churches, Painter said, and was able to grow its small
Also, the church hosted British Petroleum’s hazardous materials handling
classes during the cleanup operation, which allowed Painter the opportunity to
open those meetings with public prayer.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Chandler is a
regional reporter for the Baptist Message, official newsjournal for churches in
the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)