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Bishops launch appeal to help gulf churches build anew

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A UMNS photo by Ronny Perry

United Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi updates the church's Council of Bishops on recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina.
Nov. 4, 2005

By Tim Tanton*

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS) - The United Methodist Church's bishops are launching an appeal aimed at helping the denomination's congregations in Louisiana and Mississippi recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina.

The Council of Bishops approved the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal during its Oct. 30-Nov. 4 fall meeting. The appeal will focus on building new ministries, rebuilding facilities and addressing a wide range of other local church and conference needs, such as paying clergy salaries and covering an untold amount of uninsured losses.

During presentations Nov. 2, Bishops William Hutchinson of Louisiana and Hope Morgan Ward of Mississippi shared updates and thanked the council for the support provided by the church since late August.

"You have responded in beautiful and strong, strong ways to an unheralded kind of disaster on the shores of the United States," Hutchinson said. Churches and conferences have helped displaced congregations worship, sheltered evacuees, operated feeding stations, assisted with relocation and sent volunteer teams to the affected areas. "The church has been the church in all of this," he said.

Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina are in every state, Hutchinson said. "This is the largest diaspora of persons in the history of the United States." The evacuees have included 1.5 million people from Louisiana and several hundred thousand from Mississippi and Alabama, he said. Those evacuees include entire congregations and clergy.

Ward described walking through storm-struck areas and seeing work teams from different parts of the country. "The connection has worked in a marvelous way and has been a means of grace to us," she said.

"We've had incredible support in prayers, in love, in concern, in gifts, in work teams and contributions," she told United Methodist News Service later. The outpouring has been "astounding," she said.

The appeal is being developed with support from the General Council on Finance and Administration, United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

In its focus on church recovery, the appeal will be distinct from the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has raised $20 million so far in humanitarian relief related to the hurricanes.

"We know that people have given generously to UMCOR, but we believe there are many people who want to help rebuild United Methodist ministry on the Gulf Coast, and we're thankful for every partner in this effort," Ward said.

At their closing worship Nov. 4, the bishops raised $25,470 for the appeal.

Details on how people can support the appeal are still being developed.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Tim Tanton

United Methodist Bishop William Hutchinson of Louisiana (right) joins in singing a hymn with fellow bishops Ernest Lyght (left) and Peter Weaver at the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska, N.C.
The bishops will establish a steering committee for the effort, which will meet every six months to make decisions about block grants. The block grants will be awarded in four categories: salaries, property, connectional ministries and other.

In their discussion, several bishops emphasized the importance of not simply rebuilding what had already existed on the coast but building ministry in a new way.

In Louisiana, as many as 30 churches may have to be torn down and rebuilt, Hutchinson said. In the New Orleans District alone, 78 churches will need major work, he said. As of the end of October, 58 clergy families were still on salary support.

"We are looking at a need through May of some $1.3 million to deal with salary and benefits," Hutchinson said. That doesn't include housing.

There will also be a cost in lost apportionment dollars that would have been paid by the affected congregations. One of the biggest ways churches in unaffected areas can help is by paying their apportionments in full, Hutchinson said.

Seven church-related institutions in Louisiana, including Dillard University in New Orleans, were damaged, Hutchinson said.

"There is not one inch of the Louisiana coastline … that is not impacted by these two storms," he said. Katrina made landfall Aug. 29, followed by Hurricane Rita Sept. 24.

In Mississippi, six churches are considered destroyed, Ward said. About 300 have filed insurance claims, and of those, 20 probably have extreme damage, she said. Twenty-seven pastors are living temporarily in campers, she said.

Other church-related institutions in Mississippi that were affected included historic Gulfside Assembly in Waveland, which was destroyed, and Seashore Assembly in Biloxi, which sustained heavy damage.

During the council's discussion, bishops spoke in support of the appeal and the coastal conferences. Bishop Juan Vera Méndez, who leads the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, said his members are ready to support the recovery with volunteer teams.

Hutchinson said the hurricanes have created "an incredible opportunity for the church to speak its message in strength with hope and encouragement."

*Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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Bishop William Hutchinson: "Every church has been severely impacted."
Bishop William Hutchinson: "The church has been the church."
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward: "Saved by the altar."
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