How to Be the Church in the Neighborhood: A Glance at the Neighborhood of Freret-Milan

As a part of our New Orleans Neighborhood Blog Series, this blog will unpack some thoughts to BE the Church in New Orleans. Last month’s blog highlighted Uptown. You can read it HERE. This blog will focus on experiences in the Freret-Milan neighborhood, which is one collective neighborhood association, although these crossover into the Uptown and Central City regions of New Orleans.   

Freret Street is the hippest, new commercial corridor in New Orleans, boasting some of the city’s most popular restaurants, coffee shops, music venues, and bars. The neighborhood has also become home to many Vintage Church families over the last year. Here’s a concise history of Freret Street from Robert Morris, which sheds light on the history of the Freret and Milan neighborhood. 

Named for a former mayor, Freret boasted a streetcar and dozens of shops in the 1920s and ’30s, but it suffered during the decades of suburban sprawl and white flight, hitting its nadir with the murder of baker Bill Long Jr. in his shop on Freret in 1987. Various revitalization efforts have been under way for years, but they began to take off after the floodwaters following the levee failures receded. In 2009, Cure, Beaucoup Juice, Sarita’s Grill, Village Coffee and Freret Street Po-Boys and Donuts all opened their doors; by 2011, restaurants were on nearly every block and the whole city was talking about the Freret renaissance. – Uptown Messenger, “Good neighbors: Freret’s revival has largely avoided the issues that often accompany gentrification”  

There are two major issues to consider as we are all learning to BE the church in our neighborhoods:

First, we must remember that Freret-Milan (and, in fact, the New Orleans metro area in general) should be considered a “churched” community, meaning that a large majority of people have been exposed to the church in some form or fashion. Most have some sort of history with church attendance or a family connection. This creates a difficulty because Christians are not interacting with people who do not have a belief in God. Instead of sharing the Gospel and the hope we have in Jesus with a hopeless people, the task is to unpack the Gospel’s holistic impact on our lives. So, in discussions the focus then becomes:

  • Who God is and what He desires
  • How a belief in God impacts day-to-day life
  • What God or a belief in God has to do with this community 

These topics are of particular importance in neighborhoods that are currently being or have recently been redeveloped, as people are often discussing the physical changes in the community around them.

Also, so many of the challenges that Freret-Milan still face are not results of Katrina’s flood waters, but are problems that have existed for several decades. The blight and crime that plagued Freret for many years, hitting fever pitch in the late eighties and early nineties, did not develop overnight. These problems grew from years of societal neglect and, ultimately, generational sin. As a local business leader recently explained to me, since challenges in New Orleans are generational problems, the solutions themselves will take time and require generational changes. Therefore, Christians should connect with neighbors and listen to hurts, brokenness, and hopelessness. We should learn the history of our neighborhoods to help us understand the current state of the place we live. But Christians must also pray for and share the source of where all change starts, which is with Jesus. He came to restore, heal, and comfort all people. He is the hope of the neighborhood.

Again, living in and BEing the church in our communities and in our city provides unique challenges and exciting opportunities. May we all learn about our neighborhoods, their geography, their history, their residents, and their challenges, so that we can be ready to engage our neighbors for the sake of the Gospel with the hope of the Gospel.