Although devoid of any major pastoral changes, organizational shakeups, controversies or deaths for most of the year, 2014 did have its share of notable news in the Baton Rouge-area faith community.
Churches and many religious organizations continued to make their presence felt in the community through feeding the homeless, fixing up homes, cleaning cemeteries, operating food pantries and other outreach and evangelistic efforts.
Faith-based news did move to the forefront in the latter stages of the year with the announcement and subsequent backlash of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s planned prayer meeting next month at LSU; and also the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s decision to shut down Redemptorist High School.
Jindal is set to be the main speaker at The Response, the prayer rally set for Jan. 24 at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The event is being sponsored by the Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association, a group accused of promoting discrimination and an anti-gay agenda. But Jindal, a Roman Catholic, said the event is not political but religious and offers an opportunity for people of all denominations to come together in prayer.
On Dec. 19, Bishop Robert Muench said the diocese was closing Redemptorist Senior High and Junior High schools when the school year ends in May.
The decision was blamed on declining enrollment. The school at 4000 St. Gerard Ave. opened in 1947 and commonly enrolled more than 1,000 students. But enrollment has dwindled in the past 20 years with about 200 students in grades seven to 12 this year.
Other notable items in 2014:
SPEAKING OUT: Together Baton Rouge, the faith-based advocacy group, on Feb. 6 voiced opposition to the St. George incorporation efforts.
“Instead of separating our communities further apart from one another, we believe that we must bind our fates and interests more deeply together to continue to see progress in our community,” the group said as part of its two-page statement.
Together Baton Rouge leaders cited as negatives the impact on the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, a budget shortfall in the city-parish and creating a community divide among parish residents.
BETHANY IN LIVINGSTON: Bethany Church launched its Livingston campus on Feb. 9 with services at the Walker High School gym in Walker.
The new campus started with Cameron and Melissa Wiggins as co-pastors and nearly 1,000 worshippers in two services. Melissa Wiggins is the younger sister of Jonathan Stockstill, Bethany’s senior pastor.
With established campuses in Baker and South Baton Rouge, Bethany is one of the state’s largest nondenominational churches with attendance of about 10,000.
GATHERING PLACE: Baton Rouge continued to draw top-notch conferences and speaker as evidenced by the successful of the Iron Sharpens Iron Conference on March 29 at Istrouma Baptist Church.
Key speakers for the conference were Jonathan Evans, author, former NFL fullback and chaplain for the Dallas Cowboys; and Ted Roberts, a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, author and pastor of the megachurch Pure Desire Ministries, of Gresham, Oregon.
On June 21, more than 1,000 men attended the Promise Keepers rally at Healing Place Church, with plans to return in 2015.
More than 300 women from across Louisiana gathered for the second annual Greater Louisiana Baptist Convention Women’s Auxiliary Conference on Oct. 17-18 at Second Baptist Church in Baton Rouge. Among the speakers were Tawana Thomas-Johnson, of Maryland, and Janet D. Jamieson, of Chicago.
CYRUS NEW PRESIDENT: The Rev. Leo D. Cyrus, pastor of New Hope and Second Baptist churches, was elected in July as president of the Greater Louisiana Baptist Convention. Cyrus is the second president of the 4-year-old association.
MUSIC TOWN: Worship group Hillsong, of Sydney, Australia, was among the well-known Christian groups performing in Baton Rouge in 2014 with its stop at Healing Place Church on Aug. 19.
Among others performing in Baton Rouge were bands Third Day and Skillet at the River Center on March 29; and Switchfoot at The Varsity in March.
DIXON INSTALLED: The Rev. S.C. Dixon, pastor of the Greater Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, was installed as general secretary of the 3.5 million-member National Baptist Convention of America International Inc.
The installation came as the NBCA held a special session on Sept. 14-18 at the Baton Rouge River Center. The Rev. Samuel Tolbert, pastor of Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles and a member of the Southern University Board of Supervisors, was installed as the NBCA’s president.
BETHEL’S 200: Bethel United Methodist Church in Pride, one of the state’s oldest Methodist churches, celebrated its 200th anniversary on Oct. 12.
The church started as a rural, one-room, hand-hewn timber church served by circuit-riding preachers circa 1814. It is now in its fifth building.
The Rev. Gene Rives said the church is “a very comfortable, multigenerational church.”
SEEKING TO DIVERSITY: The Rev. Frank Page, CEO and president of the board of the Southern Baptist Convention, touted his group as “the most ethnically diverse convention on the face of the Earth” during the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge’s 125th annual session on Oct. 14 at Woodlawn Baptist Church.
The Rev. Tommy Middleton, BAGBR’s director, said his association mirrors the SBC in ethnic diversity and is “working to make it (BAGBR) look like what our country and our city looks like.”
Page said about 10,000 of the SBC’s 46,124 churches are “ethnic” congregations. The Louisiana Baptist Convention says that of the 1,600 churches in the LBC, 162 churches are classified as “ethnic,” meaning predominantly African-American, Hispanic, or one of many Asian people groups.
DOWNTOWN STOP: Christ in the City, a nondenominational ministry, opened in October as a place for downtown Baton Rouge workers who seek prayer, communion, counseling or a cup of coffee during the week.
The facility, 320 Third St., is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and is a way of taking the church out into the world, said director David Melville, an ordained Methodist pastor.
HISTORIC MEETING: More than 35 preachers met in late fall for the first Expository Preaching Conference at New Hope Baptist Church.
The one-day conference for the first time brought together pastors and pastoral students — black and white, male and female — from two different Baptist denominations. It was sponsored by the Southeast African-American Fellowship of the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge in cooperation with the Fourth District of the Louisiana Missionary Baptist State Convention.
The BAGBR is made up of 100 Baton Rouge-area and predominantly white Southern Baptist Convention churches and ministries. The Fourth District comprises about 200 predominantly black National Baptist churches in the six-parish area.
The conference featured four white Southern Baptist and four black National Baptist pastor-teachers. The conference “not only breaks racial divides, but it also breaks down denominational divides in our faith,” according to Steve Beckham, the organizer of the event.
Beckham, pastor of Church of Life Fellowship Baptist Church, a predominantly black Southern Baptist/BAGBR church, said plans are to make the conference an annual event.
The Rev. George Guillory, senior pastor of Glen Oaks Baptist Church and a moderator of BAGBR, said, “There is a more open, willing partnership between the National Baptists and Southern Baptists.”
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or by email to trobinson@ theadvocate.com.