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Oyster Bay sees decrease in giving, trusts God is in controlcomment (0)

November 4, 2010

By Kristen Padilla

Oyster Bay Baptist Church, Gulf Shores, on Plash Island, has had its building blown away twice by hurricanes. But nothing has impacted the Baldwin Baptist Association church more than the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This [disaster] has taken us aback because no one knows how to deal with it and we don’t know when it’s going to end,” Pastor Jerry Peebles said.

One thing the church does know: The spill, which began after an April 20 explosion sank a drilling rig and allowed more than 200 million gallons of oil to flow into the Gulf, is draining dollars from the offering plate.

Oyster Bay Baptist, which runs between 200 and 250 in Sunday morning worship, saw giving drop approximately 25 percent this summer.

But it’s not because church members are not being faithful. Giving is down because some do not have jobs or have taken drastic pay cuts, Peebles said. Take his wife for example. Her pay and hours were cut by 40 percent this summer.

“One works; one doesn’t. You wonder how you’re going to help them walk through this,” Peebles said of his congregation. “It’s been a challenge the likes that I’ve never had as a pastor.”

For Oyster Bay Baptist members Bob and Jeanne Donald, it’s all too familiar. The Donalds were living in Valdez, Alaska, in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred. Twenty-one years later and 4,400 miles away, they are experiencing their second oil spill and all its effects.  

“It was more of a slow-motion disaster than the Exxon Valdez,” Bob Donald said. “After [the Exxon Valdez] spilled, that was it and they knew what to do. Here I remember not thinking too much about [the spill] because I assumed it wouldn’t take them long to stop it and to go on. As time went on, apprehension [grew].”

In May, the couple, who own Hope’s Cheesecake, started to see a decline in sales. By June, sales were down 54 percent from June 2009.

“We were building a strong business until (Hurricane) Ivan hit us (in 2004), and we’ve been trying to get back to that position gradually,” he said. “Last year was a good year; every year since Ivan, we’ve been doing a little bit better. This year, we were hoping it’d be even better. But we [didn’t have] much of a summer at all. Now we’re holding our breath.”

That’s true for fellow church member Linda Center and her husband, Bill, too. They own a wedding service business called Weddings by the Bay.

In their fourth year, the Centers average 40 weddings a year but had about 10 cancellations this summer.

“We could tell (business was down) because prior to the oil spill, we were getting 25 hits (on our website) and 25 calls a day with people interested in booking their weddings,” Linda Center said. “And then when the oil spill hit, [Bill] could see people weren’t viewing our website and the calls stopped. It was devastating because it was going to be our best year.”

Even though the couple never had oil show up on their property, which sits on the Gulf on Plash Island and is the site for their weddings, the booms placed to keep the oil from coming ashore were almost as much of a deterrent.

“When people came to view our property for 2011, they saw the oil booms and were turned away,” she said. “It’s awful when you have a boom out there and customers [ask] how long it [is] going to be there.”

And while the Centers and Donalds are finding ways to survive, so is Oyster Bay Baptist.

“As far as our church is concerned, we are OK when it comes to the daily operations. We’re blessed because we’re debt-free,” Peebles said, adding the one thing the church does need is money to help its community.

Churches like Fairview Baptist, Apex, N.C., and Damascus Baptist, Brewton, are meeting that need and others by sending money, gifts for the community, encouragement cards and prayers. Peebles said this is “the body of Christ being the body of Christ.”

“People who are sending us money and support we’re taking that and putting that back into the community,” he said. “We’re helping the needs of the community that are sometimes overwhelming.”

Through it all, Oyster Bay Baptist members have not forgotten that God is in control and will carry them through this difficult time.

“For my wife and I, we’ve been blessed so much; we know this is just a bump in the road and our God will get us through it,” Bob Donald said. “Even though we are struggling and our business is suffering … we have a peace about it.”

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