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Mission zones help New Orleans churches rebuild ministries

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Ruined choir robes still hang at Brooks United Methodist Church in New Orleans nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina.
Aug. 30, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

NEW ORLEANS (UMNS) — When the water receded after Hurricane Katrina hit last year, 90 churches in three Louisiana parishes were damaged and 80 pastors were displaced.

The widespread devastation left a lot of holes — physically and emotionally — for Louisiana Bishop William Hutchinson and the conference to fill.

After many sleepless nights and countless prayers, Bishop Hutchinson and a blue-ribbon advisory committee came up with a plan to get pastors back in ministry.

At the June session of the Louisiana Annual (regional) Conference, 38 churches were each assigned to one of seven mission zone cooperative parishes, so each parish has a team of pastors working with as many as eight congregations.

Station churches have also been assigned to each mission zone and include churches that have a stable ministry but are geographically connected to the seriously affected areas.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

The Rev. Irvin Boudreaux discusses recovery efforts at Brooks United Methodist Church in New Orleans, nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina.
The Rev. Martha Orphe, conference mission zone director, knows challenges lie ahead.

“Cooperative ministries are not new to United Methodism,” Orphe says, “but the challenges and opportunities for creating dynamic cooperative ministries are compounded by specific situations found in the storm-damaged zone areas.”

The hurricane-damaged zones consist of churches in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Cameron parishes.

As a former district superintendent, Orphe worked with cooperative ministries in Pittsburgh before assuming her present position.

“Louisiana’s mission zone churches have many of the same characteristics of those in Pittsburgh and other parts of the United States,” she says. “However, those churches were working together amidst more stable populations and communities. Louisiana’s churches not only have to rebuild their ministries but must also help rebuild, repopulate and meet the needs of the community.”

Initially, 58 churches out of 79 in the Orleans District were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Today, 16 congregations are still unable to meet in their buildings, and several churches are meeting in gutted buildings.

Mission Zone 7

The Revs. Irvin Boudreaux, Deborah B. Williams and Jon M. Lord are stepping out on new pastoral territory in Mission Zone 7.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Revs. Irvin Boudreaux and Deborah B. Williams are part of a team of pastors leading congregations in New Orleans' Mission Zone 7.
Boudreaux has been in ministry for several years, most recently as associate pastor of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge. Lord comes to Mission Zone 7 from Johannesburg, South Africa, and as a recent seminary graduate, this is Williams’ first appointment.

“I am committed to rebuilding this city and ministering to the people,” Boudreaux says. He admits to feeling a little nervous about the new ministry.

Mission Zone 7 includes congregations from Metairie, St. Luke’s, Brooks and Trinity-Gentilly, all severely damaged. Metairie and St. Luke’s were predominantly white congregations, and Brooks and Trinity-Gentilly were historically African American and are still in the early stages of being cleaned out. Trinity-Gentilly will become a mission center and a supply depot.

Trinity-Gentilly had a small congregation before the storm and is an ideal place to store supplies — a resource that was in short supply before Katrina, Boudreaux says.

Williams says the first “town hall meeting” with all four congregations was exciting.

“It is exciting to talk about joint Bible studies and missions,” she says.

The pastors agree it is hard for people to give up on churches they have attended since childhood.

“We need to get people to focus on God instead of how soon they will be able to put their church back in order,” Williams says.

Orphe stresses that the churches in New Orleans are going “back to the basics.”

“To be effective, we must engage people, wherever we are.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or



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