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Louisiana bishop predicts huge financial toll on churches

 


Louisiana bishop predicts huge financial toll on churches

Sept. 27, 2005       

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

BATON ROUGE, La. (UMNS) — The toll from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is going to be significant for the Louisiana Annual Conference, according to Bishop William Hutchinson.

“There is not a single church in New Orleans Parish that has not been impacted by Hurricane Katrina, and now some have been hit again by Rita,” Hutchinson said at a Sept. 26 meeting of Baton Rouge District pastors.

More than 90 pastors are without congregations, and the conference will need to pay their salaries plus a few other basic needs, he said. Destroyed churches cannot take up collections, he noted.

“In the worst-case scenario, over the next four months, the conference will need to pay out $1.1 million,” he said. “That is a huge undertaking which the conference does not have in reserve funds.” If pastors are not able to get churches rebuilt and their salaries have to be paid in 2006, the cost will rise to $3.3 million, he said.

Having more than 90 churches unable to pay salaries for their pastors also means those congregations will be unable to pay apportionments to the conference, he said. For the rest of 2005, that will mean a $700,000 shortfall, plus an additional $1.7 million if churches still cannot pay anything in 2006.

The third large impact the conference faces is the cost of insurance deductibles for church property in New Orleans Parish, which is valued at more than $100 million. Complicating the problem is that many of the district records were destroyed in the flood caused by Hurricane Katrina and “many churches have disappeared.” Finding records of insurance and property values will be challenging, he said.

The Louisiana Conference has set up a special bishop’s appeal to pay for the shortfalls and pastor salaries, Hutchinson said. The United Methodist Committee on Relief does not deal with churches or pastor’s salaries, he explained. UMCOR’s money goes to humanitarian relief for communities affected by the hurricanes.

“We are asking churches in Louisiana to please direct funds to the bishop’s appeal if possible,” Hutchinson said.

Other conferences are beginning to place pastors, but they will not pay their salaries, he said. The Texas Conference is providing placement for 14 pastors and will provide housing, utilities, clothing, etc. for the pastors.

The North Texas, Oklahoma and North Georgia conferences have also placed some of Louisiana’s displaced pastors. The Louisiana Conference’s Storm Recovery Center in Baton Rouge is using displaced pastors to run the disaster relief efforts.

The impact of Hurricane Rita on other parts of the state is being assessed, Hutchinson said. Despite the bad economic news, he told the pastors many churches and individuals from around the world have sent money to Louisiana.

Nanci Youngblood, a volunteer in the Storm Recovery Center, said “hearts are broken over the church for South Louisiana.”

“We have had some incredible offers from people who want to help,” she said. “The beauty of the United Methodist connection is working.”

The Rev. Don Cottrill, conference provost, said it would take five years at a minimum to recover fully from the storms. “We can’t even start relief efforts for some of our churches yet because we can’t get into the areas.”

Cottrill said the Rev. Tom Hazlewood, UMCOR disaster response executive, predicted donations will top the $40 million collected by the agency after the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck in the Indian Ocean. However, only about 30 percent or less of the money coming in will go to Louisiana, he said.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Cottrill said. “We are building the boat while we are still in it.”

Response to the needs of churches from pastors in the state has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Hutchinson said. “The church has been the church.”

Hutchinson said there is a song he has been living with for the last few weeks based on Psalm 29. “God rides above the storm, giving peace to his people.”

*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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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