Beacon for the Community: Rising Star Baptist Church celebrates 92 years in LaPlace

Published 12:08 am Saturday, March 3, 2018

LAPLACE — For 92 years, Rising Star Baptist Church has served as a beacon for the community, drawing neighbors together in service and faith.

Everyone who walks through the doors is welcomed as family with a crowd of smiles and hugs, according to Pastor Donald August Sr.

He said the church is not an organization, but a living organism made up of the people who bring forth their own stories, hopes and fears.

A 92nd year anniversary celebration will be held at 8:30 a.m. March 25, during Sunday worship services at 620 Cardinal St. in LaPlace.

A pre-anniversary service at 7 p.m. March 22 will detail Rising Star’s history and honor the church’s elders.

A successful church should be the center of its community and a direct influence on members’ lives, August said.

Rising Star Baptist Church has served the community from 620 Cardinal St. in LaPlace since its founding in 1926.

“The church should be the centerpiece because it allows us to communicate with every family and every household and be able to share what’s going on,” August said.

“In turn, the church can share what’s going on with them. If someone has lost a job or is experiencing hardships, that’s an opportunity for the church to step in. Jesus calls us to have an effect on other people’s lives.”

Assembling at church also gives members a greater appreciation for their own lives, according to August. When people view death as a transition and not a frightening end, they can truly live and cherish every moment.

The passing of 18-year-old Rising Star Baptist Church member De’vante Moore, who was struck by a train in January on his way home from a Monday night youth ministry, served as a reminder of the limited time people have on Earth.

Lifelong Rising Star member Iona Holloway opens the church door.

Since the Rev. Hosea Zeno founded it in 1926, Rising Star Baptist Church has seen generations from in and around St. John the Baptist Parish come and go while maintaining a small church atmosphere.

August, a lifelong member of Rising Star and only the third pastor to lead the church in its history, said the younger generation comes looking for the camaraderie they experienced at church with parents and grandparents.

The congregation has grown over time, spiking before and after Hurricane Katrina and currently averaging 300 active members.

Iona Holloway of LaPlace is another lifelong member who grew up within blocks of the church and served as August’s Sunday School teacher years ago.

She said the Word never changes, yet remains eternally effective.

“I still say the same prayer my aunt taught me as a child,” Holloway said.

“It’s the same words I heard when I was a kid, but they still bolster you. People change, but religion never does.”

Recently deceased Rising Star Baptist Church member Rosa Diggs, right, is seen during her baptism in 2014. Pastor Donald August Sr. said he helps people overcome their fears of death so they can enjoy life.

August said Rising Star Baptist Church is traditional in teachings but progressive in its focus on youth.

“Young people are looking for something to keep them occupied, and the church has what they need,” August said. “It’s just a matter of presenting it in a way that encourages them to get involved.”

A Monday night youth ministry, and annual field trips to state prisons and junior choir performances at Celebration in the Oaks are positive activities for St. John the Baptist Parish youth to take part in, August said.

Every marking period, students on honor roll or with perfect attendance are recognized for their achievements. Graduating high school seniors are presented scholarships to pursue postsecondary educational opportunities.

A 1993 children’s choir performance speaks to Rising Star’s longstanding focus on activities for youth.

August also works closely with students at East St. John High and Emily C. Watkins Elementary School, providing counseling to those who have encountered hardships.

Holloway said it’s important for church leaders to have a presence in the community and be seen as a person rather than a public figure to form true connections with others.

Rising Star Baptist Church regularly works with Parish President Natalie Robottom and other elected officials by hosting town hall meetings to respectfully address community concerns.

The church has participated in Night Out Against Crime with the St. John Sheriff’s Office and strives to help residents whenever funding or approval delays local government response.

Following Hurricane Isaac, Rising Star Baptist Church established a disaster relief program, providing residents quick access to cleaning supplies and water.

August said FEMA praised the church for the program and used it as a model to others across the nation.