Bishop announces plan for rebuilding N.O. churches


By Betty Backstrom
United Methodist News Service

BATON ROUGE — 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 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.”

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.

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 Conference’s yearly gathering.

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