Time passes by in moments. They arrive, wash over us and then disappear, never to be experienced again. Moments become history and die away, like ticks of a clock on a mantle beside faded photographs. Or do they?
The heartbeat of today is so urgent and demanding that it's easy to forget that the path we're on had a beginning. And the path we've taken defines us. The dreams and harsh lessons learned becomes a part of us. They made us who we are. They brought us here. It's our defining story.
The history of the church is always the story of a handful of people . . . and God.
Northshore Church began with seventeen members and a dream. In July of 2001, we first met for weekly Bible studies in the home of pastor Larry McEwen and his wife Debbie. As God blessed, a praise band developed and we outgrew the living room, beginning a continuing need for more space. By October, we were meeting at the Oak Harbor Golf Club on Wednesday nights. Soon cramped again, we moved to the Eden Isles Community Center on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, in an old fire house complete with an antique fire truck. After a few months, the desire for Sunday morning services inspired the search to begin again.
A Sunday morning preview service was held in the Old Town Soda Shop to see how things would go. This led to two more preview services at the Calvary Baptist Youth House (an old night club that the church had converted for students). Finally our first real home was found in the form of an old gymnastics building on Carey Street. A mere eight months after the original Bible studies, the first service was held on Palm Sunday, March 24, 2002. It was an amazing ride.
One person, one soul at a time, baptism by baptism, we experienced amazing growth. People were touched. Lives were changed. We reached out to the city with our Forestwood Apartments Mission Project and then spread our reach beyond, sending our first mission trip to Haiti.
We couldn't know that this was a temporary opportunity. We had no way of knowing what was coming. We just grew and matured and stretched our wings, building strength. With only a few parking spaces and a single bathroom, we grew to 230 people over the next two exciting years. Once again we strained the limits of our space and began looking to expand.
On Palm Sunday, March 2004, we held our first service in a 17,000 square foot facility that had once been an outlet mall. Very soon we had to add an additional Sunday morning service. We sent our second mission trip to Guatemala. For almost a year and a half the growth continued. There were 393 people in two services on Sunday, August 21st, 2005.
It was the last service before Hurricane Katrina arrived . . .
While New Orleans and the beaches of Mississippi held the media spotlight, Slidell was at the center of the storm. For those of you who might not know, here are a few details:
On the morning of August 29 at about 9:45AM, the eye of Hurricane Katrina struck the Pearl River, on the eastern border of Slidell. The western eye wall, the most dangerous part of a hurricane, hit the town directly. The storm surge is estimated at 13 to 16 feet, not including waves which were whipped by 120 mile per hour gusts. St. Tammany Parish was struck by an unusual two-part storm surge as the westerly winds pushed water into Rigolets Pass, creating a bottleneck that forced water more than 6 miles inland. Slidell experienced the heaviest rains from the storm at approximately 15 inches. The combined rain and storm surge raised the level of Lake Pontchartrain, increasing flooding and washing out the I-10 twin span bridge connecting Slidell to New Orleans. Seventy percent of the homes in St. Tammany Parish were damaged. St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s office evacuated over 3,000 people from flooded homes and rescued about 300 people in imminent danger. Radio communications among first responders functioned throughout the rescue period but the 9-1-1 system was not operational for ten days. Utility services were not available anywhere in the parish. Generator power was available for hospitals and a special needs shelter. Hospitals were running at capacity on generator power. The hurricane force winds toppled trees and telephone poles parish-wide, blocking all transportation routes. Land debris clean up continued into 2007 with over 6.6 million cubic yards collected. Debris cleaning in waterways continued through 2009. Hurricane Katrina damaged 48,792 or 70% of the housing units in St. Tammany Parish from flood waters, high winds, or both.
These bare facts cannot communicate the vast scale of the devastation. Nothing was unaffected, from plants and animals, to homes, businesses and families. There were as many heartbreaking stories as there were people. The rebuilding goes on to this day.
But once again, it began with a handful of people in a parking lot . . . and God.
We held church services in the parking lot of the washed out building a couple of times but the damage couldn't be fixed quickly. There were too many other priorities. We moved to Grace Memorial Baptist Church for a few Sunday night services, then on to a Presbyterian church gymnasium which was neither heated or cooled. We next set up camp at Calvary Baptist Church for Sunday night services for about half a year. Then, seeking more space and the chance to have Sunday morning services again, we moved to Crazy Carl's Fireworks.
Crazy Carl needed the entire building for the Forth of July fireworks season, so we set up a tent next door for a month during the summer heat. For our Easter service we met at a movie theater for a little more comfort. When December came, the Christmas/New Year fireworks season, which lasted until the end of Mardi Gras, threatened another pause. After yet another search, we finally found a stable home at the Slidell Athletic Club, where we stayed and grew for two more exciting years, setting up and tearing down every Sunday.
During this entire time we had been working on a new permanent home, looking at property and meeting with city officials. But Katrina clean up kept the prices of materials, labor and earth moving equipment so high we couldn't build a place large enough to hold us. After several stops and starts, and thanks to some amazing blessings, we were able to purchase a large part of the former Schweggman's Supermarket just off I-10.
Northshore Church has come a long way but we aren't through. Every move has been an exciting journey, relying on our faith and seeing the hand of our Father at work. He has revealed Himself over and over again, and we stand in awe of His love and blessings. From a core group of 17 members meeting for weekly Bible studies to our current facility, we know God is continuing to work in our community. Just ask anyone whose life has been changed by meeting Jesus at Northshore Church.
Northshore Church is more than buildings and budgets, it's friends and family joining together as a community of faith, standing together on the everlasting name of Jesus Christ - no matter where we are. If you're looking for the perfect church, we're excited to say that "we're not it!" Northshore Church is people like you and me uniting because Jesus has changed us.
It's not programs, it's not music or teaching that brings us together. It's our Savior King.
So come and join the family. We'd love to get to know you and love you like Jesus loves us. Come be a part of our next adventure in Christ. There's no telling where it will take us.