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Bishop Announces plan for Rebuilding New Orleans Churches

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — Bishop William W. Hutchinson has presented a mission-based plan for rebuilding New Orleans’ United Methodist churches affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The plan was presented at a Feb. 23 meeting of New Orleans District clergy held at First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. It was subsequently presented to more than 350 district laity March 3 at Munholland United Methodist Church in New Orleans.

The plan — which does not call for any church closings at this point — was drafted by the bishop’s appointive cabinet with the help of a “blue-ribbon” advisory committee. It is based on a system of seven groups of Mission Zone Cooperative Parishes.

“The United Methodist Church will continue to make disciples for Christ, even in the most affected areas of the city,” Hutchinson said. “New Orleans is, in many ways, starting over from scratch. This approach will treat the devastated areas as a mission field, building on bold, creative approaches to deliver the Gospel.”

Clergy who want to be part of rebuilding News Orleans churches must have certain pastoral characteristics, Hutchinson said. “We need team players who have a passion for reaching people for Christ. Pastors must be able to work and live in the midst of change and hardship. We need leaders who are more interested in people than in buildings.”

Hutchinson added that “out of the box” thinking would be critical for those serving in the mission zones. “Pastors will need to be self-starters, remain flexible and possess tremendous energy,” he added.

A key requirement set forth by Hutchinson is that clergy families must be supportive of living within the Mission Zone. “There will be no commuters,” he stressed. “We must demonstrate by our presence that United Methodists believe in the city and its future.”

Thirty-eight New Orleans area churches have been identified for the seven Mission Zones. Each zone will be directed by a clergy team, headed by a designated team leader. The team will develop creative ways to bring church ministry to the areas served by the churches in the group.

“Together, with the help of the district superintendent and the cabinet, the team will eventually make recommendations on the direction churches should go. Under this plan, every church has the opportunity to determine its future,” Hutchinson said.

“For now, we are not going to close any churches,” he stated.

The financial side of the plan is in development.

The zones

The Mission Zone plan targets churches primarily in Plaquemine, St. Bernard, Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

Appointments for clergy positions under this plan will be made in June and will take effect immediately following the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference’s yearly gathering.

A Mission Zone director will be hired or appointed to manage and work directly with the cooperative parish teams. This key individual, who may be clergy or a lay person, will be selected for his or her special ability to lead the clergy teams through challenging times, situations and decisions. The director will work in cooperation with the New Orleans District superintendent, who must also provide leadership to those churches in the New Orleans District that are fully functioning.

Station churches have been assigned to each Mission Zone. These are churches that have a stable ministry but are geographically connected to seriously affected areas. Aurora United Methodist Church and St. Matthews United Methodist Church, two of the station churches, are also serving as hosts for Storm Relief/Recovery Stations funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief and managed by the Louisiana Conference.

“The station churches can provide physical and spiritual support to each team as they take on the challenging task of re-establishing ministry in the affected areas,” Hutchinson said.
In addition to Aurora and St. Matthews, station churches include El Mesias, Gretna, Korean, Munholland and Rayne United Methodist churches.

Churches in their respective Mission Zones include:

Group one: First, Grace, St. Mark’s, LaHarpe, St. Phillip’s, Thompson, Shaw Temple and John Wesley; group two: Carrollton, Haven Trinity, Phillip’s Memorial, Parker, Williams and Jefferson, along with Tulane’s Wesley Foundation; group three: Mt. Zion, Peck, Wesley, Felicity, People’s, First Street, and Napoleon Avenue; group four: Kenner First, Thomas (Kenner), First (Metairie), Ross, St. Paul’s (Harahan); group five: Asbury (Algiers), St. Matthew (Algiers), First (Algiers) and Boynton; group six, Hartzel, Arabi, Covenant (Chalmette) and Cornerstone; and group seven, Lake Vista, St. Luke’s, Brooks and Trinity-Gentilly.

Churches with a specialized focus include Bethany United Methodist Church in New Orleans and Sweet Lake, Cameron and Grand Chenier churches, which were destroyed by Hurricane Rita.

“It is felt that Bethany UMC, which was moving to a new location prior to the hurricane, has a solid core group that is ready to grow the church’s ministry to a special level,” Hutchinson added.

Also under special consideration are El Mesias and Korean United Methodist churches, serving the Hispanic and Korean ministries of the Louisiana Conference, respectively.

Addressing the New Orleans clergy, Hutchinson emphasized, “The power is in your hands. We must continue to win disciples for Jesus Christ.”

Last fall, the United Methodist Council of Bishops launched the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal to restore damaged church facilities, pay clergy salaries and cover other needs related to rebuilding or building new ministries in the hurricane-affected areas. Donations can be designated for “Bishops’ Appeal #818-001” and placed in local church offerings or made online at

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of The United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.


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Date posted: Mar 09, 2006