By Mark H. Hunter
Special to The Advocate
September 18, 2012
The Rev. Dino Rizzo, lead pastor of Healing Place Church, one of Baton Rouge’s largest churches, announced Sunday morning that he and his wife and co-pastor, DeLynn Rizzo, are leaving the church they founded nearly 20 years ago.
“We feel it is best that we step down as pastors today,” Dino Rizzo told several thousand church members gathered in the spacious arena sanctuary during the first of two Sunday morning services.
DeLynn Rizzo stood next to her husband while he addressed the church members.
“We feel God is moving us into a new season,” he said without disclosing what future plans the couple might have.
“Our hearts are forever marked by your faith, your love and your generosity,” Dino Rizzo told the silent crowd.
The Rizzos took a leave of absence in late July at the behest of the church’s spirituality board because they needed “a sabbatical rest for healing, reflection and restoration of spirit, soul and body,” according to a statement from the board.
“Over these last two months, I’ve needed a lot of mercy and a lot of grace,” Rizzo told the congregation.
He thanked his wife, calling her “my rock,” adding, “To those I have disappointed, I want to say forgive me. I’m sorry if I’ve ever disappointed you as pastor.”
“Two months ago,” Rizzo said, “I let my spirit, soul and body get depleted and did not make good choices as a dad, as a husband, as a leader.”
He said they, as a couple with three children, are now on a road of “healing and hope.”
“To keep our family as a priority and to continue keeping on with what Jesus wants us to do, we feel it’s best to step down and resign as your pastors today,” Rizzo said with emotion rising in his voice. “This is our choice — no one has asked us to do this.”
“We truly feel like we have pastored the greatest church in the world,” DeLynn Rizzo said. “We want you to remember this church is not about Dino. It is not about us. It is about Jesus and proclaiming his name in this city and across the world. It will continue to be a healing place for a hurting world.”
The Rizzos received a long and noisy standing ovation as they exited the stage.
“It’s okay to be sad but don’t be overwhelmed by sorrow or try to read between the lines,” The Rev. Chris Hodges, one of the Healing Place Church’s overseers and pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Ala., told the congregation.
“I know you want more than what’s being said here today — but can you be OK that the seven of us (overseers) know?” Hodges asked. “We’re going to take care of them and we’re going to take care of you. Trust me.”
The seven overseers, mostly from out of state, attended the service Sunday.
Mike Haman, another Healing Place Church pastor, was named interim pastor. The board of overseers prayed and laid hands on Haman and his wife, Rachel, while the audience stood with hands raised toward the stage.
Many church members expressed shock and sadness with the Rizzos’ announcement.
Monica Fernandez, a church member for three years, dabbed tears from her eyes as the Rizzos addressed the stunned audience.
“I’m sad,” Fernandez said after the service. “We will be praying for Dino and DeLynn. We understand God has a plan for their lives.”
Brian McCollister, 31, said he has been attending the church since 1999, and he wanted to stress the importance of taking the situation at face value.
“There will be tons of rumors circulating, but it’s none of anybody’s business,” McCollister said. “My heart is broken for them and their family. God can see the end from the beginning and this was no surprise to him. The decision they made was between them and God.”
The Rizzos started the full-gospel, non-denominational church in 1993 with a dozen people meeting in a small commercial building along Highland Road.
The ministry now serves more than 8,000 people in churches at 10 locations from Baton Rouge to St. Francisville to Mozambique, Africa.
On Palm Sunday 2010, the church opened the spacious and modern “Arena” on a 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 multipurpose sanctuary.
Healing Place is listed in Outreach magazine’s Top 25 Most Innovative Churches in America. Its campus was a main source of rest and resources for thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees for many months.
Rizzo is well known for his ideology of selfless service, and his 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.