NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - While the historic St. James A.M.E church now sits with a beautiful sanctuary, Reverend Jay Augustine remembers how that wasn’t always the case.
“In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this building, the oldest predominately black church in New Orleans, this building was almost destroyed,” said Augustine.
Augustine says so many people showed them grace during that difficult period, and he sees the same outpouring of support for the three historically black St. Landry Parish churches that burned within the past month.
“We’ve seen the worst types of hatred manifest in places of worship. I can’t say I’m surprised by the action,” said Augustine.
Law enforcement has since arrested 21-year-old Holden Matthews, booking him this past week on arson charges. Many fear the fires were racially motivated, but police are still investigating if that’s the case. Augustine says unfortunately, violence within places of worship - including historically black churches - isn’t new or surprising.
“We live in a day and age where we are fueled with racial hatred, and so many of us focus on that what divides us instead of that what brings us together. I can’t say I’m surprised by the actions. They obviously are very sad,” said Augustine.
Many New Orleans churches have collections to help those in St. Landry rebuild, and even former Saints tight end Ben Watson is doing what he can in sharing a gofundme page. Watson called on others to join him in supporting the rebuilding efforts. With hundreds reacting to the tweet, the page has now raised more than $50,000.
“It’s wonderful, it’s important, and we should as a body of believers,” said Augustine.
Augustine says they’re still figuring out how best to help those churches and their congregations, but he says they’ve continued to pray for their strength and resiliency.
“We’ve prayed through this tragedy and other tragedies, and we will continue to pray through this, recognizing the God we serve is able and life is cyclical. This too shall pass,” said Augustine.