Katrina appeal for local churches needs support, bishop says

11/14/2006

By Linda Bloom

United Methodist News Service

A first-anniversary fundraising appeal to help rebuild churches and congregations affected by Hurricane Katrina netted more than $2 million, with additional donations expected.

 

But that is just a beginning for the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, sponsored by the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

 

Bishop William Oden of Dallas, who leads the council’s task force on the Katrina appeal, pointed out that while Katrina was “the worst natural and man-made tragedy in the history of the United States,” the hurricane also had the most disastrous impact ever on church property, facilities and programs.

 

“Because there are over 40 churches totally destroyed or severely damaged, it’s going to take up to a decade and maybe as much as $10 million to have mission and ministry along the Gulf Coast,” Oden told United Methodist News Service.

 

Established a year ago, the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal will help restore hurricane-damaged United Methodist facilities; pay salaries for clergy while their congregations cannot do so; establish new congregations or consolidate existing ones; renew church-based community ministries such as day-care centers; and provide such worship necessities as Bibles and hymnals to churches in need.

 

The need includes churches affected by Hurricane Rita as well as Katrina, all along the Gulf Coast, from East Texas to Alabama.

 

The denomination’s first response after Katrina was for humanitarian aid through the United Methodist Committee on Relief. “We raised over $60 million right after Katrina for survivor relief,” Oden said. “None of that can be spent on United Methodist property or salaries.”

 

Because of the magnitude of the damage, funding to restore these properties and pay salaries to clergy is essential. But the affected church properties along the gulf have had a very low payout from insurance policies, especially in New Orleans, according to Oden. Flood insurance policies were not in effect because insurance companies declared wind to be the primary cause leading to damage, he explained.

 

Partnerships for recovery

The first-anniversary collections from local churches and conferences have raised some $2 million for the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, and similar anniversary-related fundraising is planned for 2007 and 2008. A small amount of the money has been used for a video and other promotional materials, the bishop said, but not for administrative costs.

 

Another source of assistance through the appeal may come from partnerships between Gulf Coast churches and the denomination’s large-member congregations around the country. Oden reported that 35 large-church pastors met recently in New Orleans with Bishops William Hutchinson of Louisiana, Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi and Larry Goodpaster of Alabama.

 

“They all unanimously agreed to be a part of such partnerships,” he said. He added that the pastors would extend the involvement to other churches not represented at the meeting. “We feel in the long run this will be one of the major ways the Gulf Coast churches can recover.”

 

The funds will be allocated on an ongoing basis. The three bishops and the bishops’ task force on the appeal are “now beginning the process of distribution from requests of the Gulf Coast conferences,” Oden said.

 

During the recent Council of Bishops’ meeting in Mozambique, Hutchinson reported that the Louisiana Conference already faces a $1.2 million shortfall for salaries and is in the middle of determining “what we do and how we do it” in relation to church repairs and reconstruction.

 

Helping out

Donations to the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, No. 818-001, can be made online at www.umc.org or placed in offering plates in local churches.