By Neville Vanderburg
WOW! Guests at Thursday evening’s Small Membership Church awards banquet heard powerful testimony about God’s successes across the Mississippi Annual Conference. As in years past, each district’s small membership church of the year was recognized with an award. This year saw something new, however, as Rev. Lauren Porter, chair of the small membership church committee, announced an additional award for the conference-wide small membership church of the year. Recipients of this first annual award were Hopewell UMC and Rev. Wayne Taylor of the Meridian district. Whether it is food and clothing for a needy family, or a new washing machine for a local food pantry, Hopewell serves as an example of what can be accomplished when even the smallest churches put God first and respond to the needs of their local community. Rev. Taylor said that from a base of five strong prayer warriors attendance has quadrupled and they have completed two additions to the church, providing much needed space for fellowship and discipleship activities with the community. As Rev. Taylor said, Hopewell serves as a reminder that “small” churches do not have to be “small” in their impact. Rev. Taylor was followed by the evening’s guest speaker, Dr. Joseph Bishman, Shawnee Valley District Superintendent from the West Ohio Conference. Dr. Bishman built on the same foundation with a rousing presentation based on the biblical account of David and Goliath. He amused the audience with his verbal and physical portrayal of life in King Saul’s encampment above the Valley of Elah and the posturing that often accompanies preparation for such a significant event. He then took the audience into battle with the mighty Goliath, led neither by the king or his mighty soldiers, but by a small boy, equipped only with his trusted and familiar sling and five smooth stones. Alternating between images of the Israelite soldiers and football locker rooms before the big game, Dr. Bishman’s message focused on the fact that, small or large, we are successful when we use what we have to the best of our ability, not for our own sake but to bring glory to God.
The other small membership churches of the year were: Adams UMC, Brookhaven District; Sylvester UMC, East Jackson District; Walden Chapel/John Wesley UMC, Greenwood District; Williams Chapel UMC, Hattiesburg District; Pine Flat UMC, New Albany District; Diamondhead UMC, Seashore District; Horn Lake UMC, Senatobia District; Cooksville UMC, Starkville District; St. Mark UMC, Tupelo District; and, Mt. Olivet UMC, West Jackson District.