By Brian Blackwell, Message staff writer
NEW ORLEANS, La. (LBM) – “We believe money matters, but we believe everything is better with Christ,” Baptist Community Ministries Board Chair Slade Simons said.
For more than 25 years, Baptist Community Ministries has helped improve the physical, mental and spiritual health of the greater New Orleans metropolitan area by helping to generate funds as a foundation and through chaplaincy services and congregational wellness at the height of COVID-19.
“It’s just as humbling as it is exciting,” Simons said. “Not many people get the chance in life to have a very true meaningful impact on other people’s lives in such a positive way. When you sit on a board of a grant maker that is truly concerned with its community and with the Gospel, it really is remarkable, and it is very humbling.
“We have been able to Baptist Community Ministries celebrates 25 years (plus one) pump a little over $208 million into the community over the last 25 years,” he continued. “Money is not the only answer to problems that people deal with, but it can certainly help provide a lot of resources and a lot of help.”
The ministry was formed from the proceeds of the 1995 sale of Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans; and through the years the ministry has furthered the Gospel through partnerships formed with 150 churches and 95 non-profit organizations in the city — investing in health, education and public safety. BCM officially marked its 25th anniversary in 2020 but muted its celebration activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Jennifer Drummer, BCM’s director of fund development and communications, the ministry employs 14 full-time chaplains who minister at hospitals, long-term care facilities and the New Orleans Police Department. Since 2010, BCM chaplains have provided more than 1 million points of contact with individuals in the community.
Their chaplains played a key role during the coronavirus pandemic, she said. They encouraged doctors who were drained emotionally and provided spiritual support and comfort to families of patients who passed away or were placed in medical facilities long term. They also were beside patients during Zoom calls with family members who were prevented from visiting loved ones — who were patients in the hospital — in person.
Likewise, BCM’s chaplains have built strong relationships with many officers in all eight districts of the New Orleans Police Department, Drummer added. Their chaplains are among the first to respond after a tragedy occurs and to accompany officers for neighborhood walks and on “ride alongs” in the community.
“Collectively, what I have heard from our chaplains is a lot of people are dealing with mental health issues during this time,” Drummer said. “They don’t know who to turn to. A lot of times our chaplains are ministering on the scene of a crime or walking the normal beat with police officers and these first responders will turn to the chaplains and say, ‘I need to talk for five minutes.’”
“Police officers don’t want to burden their families with what they see on the job,” she continued. “A lot of times they go to the chaplain to talk. Our chaplains are seeing a lot more police officers open up and talk about what they see. It’s a great opportunity mental health wise for the chaplains to help people to cope with whatever experience they are going through.”
While chaplains provided vital emotional support during COVID-19, BCM’s congregational wellness ministry assisted with providing valuable resources. Through a partnership with the City of New Orleans, New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and Hanes Apparel, in 2020, BCM received 23,500 masks made from Hanes materials and distributed them to 140 local churches for distribution.
BCM continued to distribute masks and hand sanitizer to residents as the Delta variant increased coronavirus cases once again. Four churches who partner with BCM also served as host sites for COVID-19 testing and 11 were food distribution centers.
BCM staff also hosted digital town halls with faith leaders and provided on-site presenters who shared resources available to address housing, as well as legal and mental health needs during the pandemic.
“We are a people that believe everything is better with Jesus,” Simons said. “So, we know that our education, training and partnerships are instruments of God to use in helping with the healing; but there are elements that just go beyond those identifiable things that we can put our hands to and that’s where our faith comes in. As we engage with our church partners, the first contact we have is with the pastors, but it’s also with those folks who are leaders in their church who are people of faith. And they understand this mission that BCM has which is to help heal humanity’s hurt through the love of Christ.”
Beyond the chaplaincy and congressional wellness programs, BCM also has been active on several other fronts related to education, health, and public safety:
— From 2011 to 2016 BCM helped reshape the delivery of healthcare by investing in quality, community-based health centers. This effort included working with 120 providers representing 14 community health centers to help local nonprofits such as Baptist Community Health Services attain Federally Qualified Health Center status.
— Through a partnership with Crossroads NOLA, a faith-based nonprofit devoted to making a difference through foster care in the city, BCM organizational support combined with BCM funding has helped to successfully recruit foster and adoptive parents and provide training to build trust with children who have experienced trauma.
— More than 40 percent of individuals released from Louisiana state prison later return to incarceration within five years. BCM funds and partners with nonprofits, such as the First 72+ that mentors recently released inmates using Christian-based principles.