“Faith Matters” column for Dec. 29, 2012

The death of a well-respected pastor and civic leader, and the resignations of two other prominent ministers were among the top stories in the Baton Rouge faith community in 2012.

The Rev. Charles T. Smith, the pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for 50 years, died Sept. 11 at the age of 80. Smith, who had retired in May, became only the church’s fourth pastor in 137 years when he succeeded his father, the Rev. Dudley T. Smith, in 1962.

Smith helped Shiloh grow from a small congregation into one of the largest black churches in the community. Among the many programs Smith initiated at Shiloh were a credit union, day-care center and academic scholarships for students.

He was also active in national Baptist organizations as well as local social and civic groups, including 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge, the Interfaith Federation of Baton Rouge and Together Baton Rouge.

Two ministers who left their prominent senior pastor positions in 2012 were the Revs. Dino Rizzo, of Healing Place Church, and Dennis Terry, Greenwell Springs Baptist Church.

Rizzo officially resigned, along with his wife and co-pastor, DeLynn, during a Sunday morning service on Sept. 16.

The resignation came about two months after the Rizzos took a leave of absence at the direction of the church’s spirituality board. The board statement said the couple “needed sabbatical rest for healing, reflection and restoration of spirit, soul and body.”

At the service, Rizzo acknowledged that he “did not make good choices, as a dad, as a husband, as a leader” but said he wasn’t asked to step down.

Rizzo founded the church in 1993 and helped build it into one of the biggest in Baton Rouge, and was named one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Churches by Outreach Magazine. The ministry’s main sanctuary is a $26 million, 3,000-seat “Arena” on 56 acres on Highland Road. The ministry said it serves more than 8,000 people in 10 locations, including Africa.

The often controversial Terry preached his final message at 1,400-member Greenwell Springs Baptist on Aug. 19. After 13 years at the church, Terry left to lead a year-old ministry in Huntsville, Ala.

Terry received national attention more than once during his time at Greenwell Springs. The latest was in March during a visit to the church by then-Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. Terry’s message — in which he proclaimed, “If you don’t love America and don’t like what we stand for, get out!” — went viral and was the talk of several national talk shows. Some labeled him “bigoted,” “anti-Muslim” and a “Christian supremacist” for his remarks.

In 2006, Terry’s invitation to the controversial Rev. Jerry Falwell also garnered some national attention and some threats of protests. Falwell showed up for the dedication of the church’s new building but the demonstrators didn’t.

Shiloh, Healing Place and Greenwell Springs Baptist are being led by interim pastors.

Other top stories in the faith community during 2012 were:

BISHOP CHANGES: Julius H. McAllister Sr. was named in July as the new bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Louisiana and Mississippi. McAllister, a native of South Carolina, replaced Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry, of Jackson, Miss., who retired after leading the Eighth District for four years.

McAllister, a graduate of Morris Brown College and Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, came to the district from the Twentieth District, which included parts of Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Also in July, the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist elected a new bishop: Cynthia Fierro Harvey.

The Texas native started working on Sept. 1. She replaced Bishop William Hutchinson in leading the conference of more than 500 churches and 120,000 members.

Harvey comes to Louisiana from New York City, where she was deputy general and led the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Harvey graduated from the University of Texas in journalism and later graduated from seminary.

TOGETHER BATON ROUGE’S CONTINUED INFLUENCE: The faith-based Together Baton Rouge was credited with playing a key role in the passage of the Capital Area Transit System tax in April.

Together Baton Rouge, a collection of 40 dues-paying institutions founded three years ago by a group of ministers, advocates on various issues confronting the community.

Together Baton Rouge said its decision to get involved in CATS was a “community” and not political issue. The 10.6-mill property tax was to apply to property within the Baton Rouge city limits and Baker.

On behalf of CATS, Together Baton Rouge leaders participated in debates about the tax and put on about 120 informational presentations for churches, universities, businesses, hospitals and nonprofits.

FIRST METHODIST MOVES: The Rev. Brady Whitton, who once lived in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in New Jersey, took over as the senior pastor of Baton Rouge’s First United Methodist Church on July 1.

Whitton replaced Bishop Robert Fannin, who took over as interim pastor in August 2011 after the departure of the Rev. Chris Andrews. Whitton was previously at First United Methodist of Amite. Years before, he studied Buddhism before earning a master’s degree in divinity and joining the Methodist church.

Whitton’s appointment was part of an eventful three-week stretch for First United Methodist. The church had a big send-off for Hutchinson and also celebrated the retirement of the debt on its $6.8 million, three-story Youth Building and Conference Center that opened in fall 2011.

RELIEF EFFORTS: Faith-based organizations once again mobilized in relief efforts during a storm-related crisis, this time after Hurricane Isaac in late August.

A variety of faith groups were at work, including United Methodist Committee on Relief, Catholic Charities, Louisiana Baptist Convention, the Atlas Foundation and The Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints. Some cooked, such as members of Zoar Baptist Church. Others, such as a group from the LSU Collegiate Ministries, pulled out the chain saws to cut trees.

CHRIS ANDREWS’ NEW “RELIGION”: More than a year after abruptly retiring as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, the Rev. Chris Andrews said in August he’s found “good religion” as an ordained member of the unconventional Jubilee Community religious group.

Andrews was a United Methodist minister for 42 years and the pastor at First United Methodist for 23 years before leaving in July 2011. Andrews “surrendered his credentials as a clergy person in the United Methodist Church in November of 2011,” according to a statement from the Louisiana Annual Conference.

Andrews started leading a Bible study after some of his former members at United Methodist approached him about the idea.

WINDOWS ON HOLD: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was denied its bid to secure stained-glass windows for its planned $5.3 million sanctuary but the issue isn’t over.

In the latest move in early December, the Syracuse Planning Commission voted against allowing the removal from the historic, but now vacant Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Syracuse, N.Y., 22 stained-glass windows that the Zachary church wanted to repurpose in a new sanctuary, according to syracuse.com. The Syracuse church closed in 2010 when its congregation was merged with a nearby parish.

The Zachary church contacted the Diocese of Syracuse to purchase the property and bring the windows, some furniture and the sacred objects to Zachary to repurpose them into a new 8,000-square-foot sanctuary.

St. John the Baptist said it will “continue to work with the (Syracuse) diocese and pursue all the options available.”

PEACEMAKER VISITS: Composer Robert Kyr is using Baton Rouge residents’ own “words” to help “wage peace.”

Kyr, a professor of music at the University of Oregon, asked the members of the community about their experiences with violence and healing. He will take the expressions, “weave it into a text” and then create a musical work for soprano soloists, baritone soloists, a chorus and instruments, Kyr said in October at the Community Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge.

Kry plans to present the new work to the community at the federation’s Sounds of CommUNITY concert scheduled for 4 p.m. May 5 at Broadmoor Baptist Church, 9755 Goodwood Ave.

RESTORING, EXPANDING: The Julius Freyhan Foundation in early December celebrated the restoration of one of St. Francisville’s historic landmarks: the Temple Sinai at 4740 Prosperity St.

The temple was once the center of religious life for its 20 members in the Jewish congregation of Bayou Sara and St. Francisville.

In April, the Hindu Vedic Society held a ground-breaking celebration on expansion of the Hindu Vedic Center, 710 Kenilworth Parkway.

The society, which started in 1991, said plans are for a 3,000-square-foot facility where parent volunteers can train youth on Sunday mornings.

The society has about 80 member families for about 320 people.

“Faith Matters” runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Reach Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.