First Baptist Church of LaPlace continues to rebound from Ida while mourning loss of spiritual home

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 18, 2022

LAPLACE — The congregation at First Baptist Church of LaPlace longs to return to its spiritual home.

Each week, the staff mobilizes a makeshift worship space inside of the fellowship hall. The church sanctuary that once housed services remains in disarray with widespread water and roof damage nearly eight months after Hurricane Ida.

First Baptist Church of LaPlace was a beacon of hope in the aftermath of Ida, providing thousands of meals, laundry services, a mobile shower and countless pallets of relief supplies to the storm-stricken community.

It’s been a blessing to help families piece their lives together in the midst of disaster, but church trustee Harold DeGruy said it’s disheartening to not have a space to retreat to when it’s time to unwind.

Seeing the church in its current state is especially gut-wrenching for the staff who rode out the hurricane inside its walls, working tirelessly to sweep out water and mitigate damage to no avail. With little response from insurance, recovery has been an uphill battle.

“It’s like living through hell. You have a church body that’s healthy and thriving, and you have members who need healing. They need to be in the church worshipping God, and they have no church to go to,” DeGruy said. “You’re watching a sanctuary that’s representative of God and all that He’s done for us, and it’s just falling apart. Mold is growing in it, and it’s disgusting, and it’s actually defiled the tabernacle He’s built for us. Not only are people dealing with their own houses that have been ravaged through the storm; they are dealing with the fact that they don’t have a sense of community, and we don’t have any sign that it’s going to be fixed in the near future.”

First Baptist Church of LaPlace recently filed a federal lawsuit against insurer Church Mutual Insurance Company of Merrill, Wisconsin, claiming the company failed to adequately cover millions of dollars in property damage resulting from Hurricane Ida and a windstorm that occurred in April 2021.

Representing First Baptist Church of LaPlace, attorneys with the New Orleans office of the Potts Law Firm LLP allege that Church Mutual Insurance Company violated a state law requiring insurers to pay claims within 30 days of proof of loss. Since the company is foreign-owned, the discovery process and trial will occur in federal court.

“We pay our premiums. If we are one day late, we would be in trouble. I can’t fathom how someone could come and look at the church building days after the storm and barely give us enough money to not even put the first building back together, when we had multiple buildings damaged. It’s heartless,” DeGruy said. “We know insurance companies struggle to stay in Louisiana. We know there are a lot of claims when there’s a storm. I also run a business, and I know it’s hard to find that healthy balance. What is it going to take to get this to where the insurance companies can be profitable but also act right when someone files a claim?”

DeGruy is thankful to Bales Environmental Services for a phenomenal job getting the fellowship hall and Wee Care building reopened in the aftermath of the storm. It was touching to see parents moved to tears as they dropped their children off at Wee Care for the first time after Hurricane Ida.

“Parents would come up crying because they were finally able to give their kids some stability in life,” DeGruy said. “It’s been a blessing to see all these little children enjoying themselves on the playground while their parents go out to make a living and fix their own houses.”

The congregation has clung to signs of hope that remind them God is still in control. The only spared room in the sanctuary was a space in the back that was remodeled just before the storm. Members of the congregation wrote their favorite Bible verses inside the walls before it was painted, and it was the only area to not sustain water damage.

“The church is a place for us to go and worship God and thank him for all the blessings He’s given us, but also a place where we can go and be in peace with God to pray and not have the pressures of the world on us while we are in His presence. It’s a need,” DeGruy said. “I’m just happy that Potts Law Firm is going to get us up and going. I’m confident they are going to get us what we need to repair our building as quickly as possible.”