The pastor of one of Baton Rouge’s largest churches and a nationally recognized religious figure, the Rev. Dino Rizzo, of Healing Place Church, surprised his congregation Sunday by announcing he was immediately taking a leave of absence.
The announcement was confirmed in an emailed statement from church leaders stating that the Healing Place spirituality board determined that Rizzo needed the “sabbatical rest for healing, reflection and restoration of spirit, soul and body.
“Healing is what Healing Place Church is all about,” the statement reads. “After 20 years of uninterrupted outreach to hurting people, lead pastor Dino Rizzo has found that he also needs healing.”
Rizzo “has humbly and willingly embraced the board’s plan,” the church’s statement said, adding that a length for the sabbatical has not been determined. “That will depend on the healing process.”
The statement quoted Rizzo saying, “I have not felt myself, spiritually, physically or emotionally for several months now. My physically exhausted, spiritually depleted state has affected my decision making, my family life and my ability to lead effectively.”
There were no further specifics offered on why Rizzo is taking a sabbatical and the statement did not specify who will fill his lead pastoral duties during his absence.
“Healing Place Church was never built upon one person or personality, but solely on Jesus Christ,” the church statement read. “We have a strong team of pastors and leaders who will continue the work in Pastor Rizzo’s absence.
“Healing Place Church will continue in all of its activities including weekly services and a large variety of ministries and outreaches,” according to the statement. “We will continue to humbly serve our community by being a Healing Place for a hurting world.”
Rizzo was not available for further comment and a personal cell phone number for him was no longer working.
Church officials also didn’t respond to follow up phone calls and emails on Wednesday afternoon, and there was no explanation on the church’s web site, or Rizzo’s own web site, his Twitter account or his Facebook page. But several encouraging comments were posted on his Facebook page.
Scott Russo, a member of the church, said Wednesday he was in the congregation with his family when the announcement was made Sunday.
“We were shocked,” Russo said. “We were surprised, but when he explained his reason — family always comes first — we are certainly OK with that. My wife and I both are praying for him and his family.”
Rizzo and his wife DeLynn, started the full-gospel, non-denominational church in 1993 with a dozen people meeting in a small commercial building along Highland Road. The couple has three children.
The ministry now serves more than 8,000 people in 17 local services and 10 locations from Baton Rouge to St. Francisville to Mozambique, Africa.
Rizzo was recently featured on the cover of the July 1, issue of Charisma magazine, a national Christian publication, and a lengthy article. Headlined “The Servolutionary,” the article starts by describing the 2005 horror and fatigue of the Hurricane Katrina evacuees camping in the classrooms of the older Healing Place church, before the new Arena was built, and how Rizzo and other local pastors and churches responded with compassion.
The story, written by Marcus Yoars, also details Rizzo’s depth of conviction and his unflagging energy and enthusiasm for a “Servolution.”
“Rizzo is a pastor’s pastor, which is why it takes him 30 minutes to go 30 feet after a Sunday service,” Yoars wrote. “Our tour of HPC’s new facility has been continuously interrupted by a steady stream of handshakes, high-fives, hugs and heartfelt conversations. As an outsider, it’s given me a chance to verify the rumors I’d heard about ‘Pastor Dino.’ It turns out they’re true: The man possesses a genuine, unconditional love for others.”
Healing Place on Palm Sunday of 2010, celebrated the opening of a spacious,modern arena on the church’s 56-acre campus located at 1902 Highland Road. The $28 million, 126,000 square-foot building features the latest in technology and seats 3,000 in its multi-purpose sanctuary.
Healing Place is listed in the Top 25 Most Innovative Churches in America by Outreach magazine. Its campus served as a refuge for thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees.
“Every week hundreds of volunteers serve in outreaches – cooking hot breakfasts for the homeless, helping ex-prisoners re-enter society, caring for AIDS orphans, and reaching the poor through free medical and dental clinics and many other outreaches,” is how Rizzo describes his church on his personal web site.
Rizzo’s 2009 book, “Servolution,” is used by hundreds of pastors across the country as a model for their own outreach ministries. He also co-founded the Association of Related Churches, a group of several dozen churches that have planted 135 churches in 33 states in the last few years, according to Rizzo’s web site.
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