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Deepwater Horizon saga: a ‘backdoor blessing’
Diana Chandler, Baptist Press
July 11, 2011
4 MIN READ TIME

Deepwater Horizon saga: a ‘backdoor blessing’

Deepwater Horizon saga: a ‘backdoor blessing’
Diana Chandler, Baptist Press
July 11, 2011

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

human health.

“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

opportunities.”

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

Baptist Church,

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,”

McNeil said.

“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

adversely affected.

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

Petroleum).”

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

group ministry.

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.)