A new bishop for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and the challenges that quickly awaited him regarding clergy accused of sexual abuse topped the news in 2018 for the Baton Rouge-area faith community.
Bishop Michael Duca was installed on Aug. 24 as the diocese's sixth bishop in a grandiose Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge.
Among the attendees at the ceremony were Gov. John Bel Edwards, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, along with bishops and religious representatives from across the region.
A Dallas native, Duca came to Baton Rouge after 10 years leading the Diocese of Shreveport. He replaced Bishop Robert Muench, who retired after 16 years and became "bishop emeritus." Muench was required to submit his resignation to the Vatican when he turned 75. "One of the great things about being retired is that you can still be a priest," Muench told The Advocate.
Upon his arrival, Duca addressed the sexual abuse revelations that have rocked the Catholic Church nationwide and have been felt across Louisiana.
In November, Duca hired a law firm and an auditing firm to scrutinize clergy files and to help the Catholic diocese complete a list of clerics who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. Duca has said he will use the work from the law firm and auditors to create the list of "credibly and substantially accused clergy." He wants to release the list after U.S. bishops go on a retreat in early 2019.
Some other noteworthy religion stories in the year included:
ST. FRANCIS XAVIER’S CENTENNIAL: The Baton Rouge area’s first black Catholic church, St. Francis Xavier, celebrates its 100th-year anniversary in December with a theme of “Through trials and tribulations, by God’s grace, we triumph.”
The first Mass at the church was celebrated on Dec. 25, 1918. The black parishioners had previously attended St. Joseph Cathedral and later St. Agnes Catholic Church. A site at Julia and South 11th streets was selected early in the 20th century for the church exclusively for black Catholics.
The church will host an anniversary gala from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Belle of Baton Rouge Capital Atrium.
PASTORS PASS: The Rev. Bob Anderson, the founder of Parkview Baptist School and the former longtime pastor of Parkview Church, died on Dec. 14 at the age of 84.
Anderson was the pastor at the church for 22 years, retiring in 1996. Under Anderson, the church grew from 250 to 3,000 members. He founded the school in 1981, and it has become one of the largest private schools in the state with more than 1,200 students.
Another well-known pastor, the Rev. Albert Neal, died on Dec. 6 at age 82. He was pastor of the New Zion Baptist Church in Pride-Baywood. The Chamberlain native was a prominent member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Ministers Conference, serving as the financial secretary for several years.
NEW FACES: Several of the area's more prominent churches brought in new pastors.
The Rev. Brian Robertson, 40, took over at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church on Jan. 7. He is a native of Nashville, Tennessee, and has been in the ministry since 2000. Robertson had stints at Friendship Baptist Church in Grenada, Mississippi, and First Baptist Church Kenton, Tennessee.
The Rev. Lynwood C. Spell was installed on Jan. 7 as Star Hill Baptist Church's fifth pastor, replacing the Rev. Raymond Jetson. Spell, a native of Richmond, Virginia, graduated from college in religion and earned a master's degree of divinity and a master of arts in Christian Education from Princeton Theological Seminary.
In April, the nondenominational Zachary Community Church welcomed the Rev. Dwayne Rogers as new pastor. Rogers grew up in Pride and attended Pride High School, Louisiana College and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Rogers previously has been pastor of three Baptist churches and has served as interim pastor of other churches.
On May 20, Broadmoor Presbyterian Church installed the Rev. J. Barrett Ingram as pastor. Born and reared in Lake Charles, Ingram graduated magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with a master’s degree in divinity. He spent 10 years as a pastor in Texas before coming to Baton Rouge.
On Aug. 19, St. Mark United Methodist Church welcomed the Rev. Simon Chigumira as new pastor. Chigumira came from the New Orleans District. He earned his master's of divinity degree from Emory University in Atlanta and has been in full-time ministry for 15 years.
Chigumira succeeded the Rev. Derrick Hills, who left to become Acadiana District superintendent. In Lafayette, Hills took over for the Rev. John Cannon, who went to Asbury United Methodist in Lafayette.
On Nov. 18, the Rev. Riley Harbor III was installed as the new pastor of Sweet Home Baptist Church.
CELEBS COME TO TOWN: The Australia worship band Hillsong and its founder, internationally renowned pastor Brian Houston, of Hillsong Church, came to Baton Rouge for the "There is More" concert tour on April 6 at Bethany Church-South Campus.
Hillsong's many hits include "What a Beautiful Name," "Here I Am to Worship," "Shout to the Lord," "Oceans," "Mighty to Save," "From the Inside Out" and "Touch the Sky."
Other big names in the faith industry visiting the area were evangelist and national radio talk-show Alex McFarland bringing his national Truth For A New Generation Conference to Greenwell Springs Baptist Church Oct. 26-27, and Jonathan Merritt speaking on Oct. 14 at Walker Baptist Church as part of his "Learning to Speak God From Scratch" tour.
HABITAT HOME: The Fourth District Missionary Baptist Association joined with the Habitat of Humanity of Greater Baton Rouge to start work on a new home in the Richmond Park Subdivision.
The groups held a ceremony and demolition on Nov. 15 on the blighted property at 1001 N. 31st St. and will start construction on a new home in February. It is part of stepped-up efforts to eliminate blighted properties and to revitalize the area.
The Rev. René F. Brown, pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church and president of the Fourth District Missionary Baptist Association, spoke of "turning this house from blight to a blessing."
GETTING SMART: Dave Ramsey's "Smart Money" tour made a stop at Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge on Sept. 7. Instead of the big-name Ramsey, it was Anthony O'Neal and Chris Hogan sharing info on money matters, such as budgeting, Roth Individual Retirement accounts, emergency funds, college accounts, life insurance and wills.
Another day. Another blessing
You don’t have to be bound within the four walls of a jail cell to be in bondage.
David said in Psalms 142:7: “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.”
David may have been talking about a physical prison or dungeon, but so many of us are imprisoned in our minds and have become captives to our selfish actions and desires, addictions, relationships, etc. In fact, the King James version of that verse says, “Bring my soul out of prison.” You know you’re in a deep, dark place when your soul is in prison.
So many things are keeping us in bondage; we get caught up in insignificant things that don’t really matter, and we need to be set free so that we may be able to praise the one who frees us, gives us life and brings us peace. Set your hearts and minds free to praise God. And when we praise God, many others will see how good, kind and merciful God has been to us and rejoice with us.