Not just repairing history, but the Lord’s house too

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley
Members of the St. Peter United Methodist Church are pictured with Pastor Rev. Gaynell Simon and Mary Gehman of the Donaldsonville Historic District Commission.

Buildings are like people, all they need is some tender love and care and they’ll be alright. But for people, reaching the age of 148 just doesn’t happen anymore. For buildings it does though, and when it comes to be there is a time for more than just TLC, more like “restore me.”

When Donaldsonville Historic District commissioner Mary Gehman found the St. Peter United Methodist Church on Claiborne Street, she wasn’t for sure if it was still being used. But indeed it was, it just needed a little repairs. After talking to members and the Pastor, Rev. Gaynell Simon, Gehman was able to help the church begin repairs, in anticipation for a restoration.

Rev. Simon said it’s truly a blessing and she gives the highest praise to God for helping ignite this process.

“Each year we always put in God’s time He will restore this church and it has been our faith and now it has come to past,” Rev. Simon said, who’s been with the church since 2008. “We have asked for help, but we continued to pray and trusted God. We understand that everything comes in a season in God’s time.”

The Church Mother, Goldie Butler, at age 90 may be the happiest of all to see the building she pretty much grew up in being repaired with hopes of restoration.

“I start shouting, I feel so good. I feel wonderful,” Butler said, who remembers when the church also served as a school. “This is what I wanted to see. I wanted to see this church fixed. I used to feel bad and I felt like it was my house because it is my house. God’s house is our house.”

The church is in the beginning phases of repairs but has already completed some major roofing, wall and floor damage that needed to be done. However, it does not have the funds to do a complete restoration.

Member Althea Williams said she’s happy the church is able to pay for the repairs that are being done, but in order for the church to last another 148 years a complete restoration is needed; with that calls for more funds.

“Our funds are getting limited,” Williams said. “Had it not been for Mrs. Mary Gehman we would not have even been able to get started. She came one Sunday not knowing if the church was open, but it was God who sent her here.”

Gehman said the legend and history great Pierre Landry is what led her to the church. She learned Landry was a key factor in getting St. Peter started and pastored it for a while. It wasn’t that she was looking for a church home, but rather more pieces to history.

However, also a member of the Historic District Commission she was concerned with the building’s condition, especially the bell tower. She was really intrigued by the gothic architecture and of course the fact that it is connected to Landry.

“It seems to me we owe it to him and not only him but all the people who came before,” Gehman said, who also found a repairman for the church.

“We all know the old buildings cost a lot to restore, especially if you want to do a good job and want it to last,” Gehman said. “The church is 148 years old and you want it to last another 148 and in order to do that you have to keep it up.”

Rev. Simon and the church said they’ve set up an account at Whitney Bank for donors to contribute to the restoration fund. After estimates have come in, they have learned it would cost about $200,000 to completely restore the building.

All proceeds will go directly to the church’s restoration if donors mention the St. Peter’s restoration fund.

“We just want to repair and stabilize the building so it doesn’t go into further deterioration right now,” Williams said, “but it really needs to be restored completely.”

Gehman added: “Donaldsonville has a lot of potential. It has a lot of buildings that need help and I think there are people that are willing to help.”