By Cynthia Laird, Senatobia District Communications Coordinator
Many of us in the Senatobia District have been privileged to hear Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr. preach, whether at annual conference, the Festival de Verano or at another time and place. The blessings that we encounter often go beyond a particular time of worship and touch our lives in unexpected ways.
As we crowded into the sanctuary at Asbury United Methodist Church on August 19 awaiting Bishop Swanson’s message, I met another preacher with a story to tell. Rev. Michael-John Pope and his wife, Dena, sat on the pew next to me at Asbury. He smiled, introduced himself and seemed eager to share the joy he felt in his calling. I sensed that there was a story that he could share with all Mississippi Methodists as we each seek God’s will in our lives. We have communicated some through email since that time and I learned that he was already faithful in following a call to serve, but the Lord chose him to take on yet another role in the body of Christ.
Pope was greatly influenced in his Christian walk by his father, Rev. Kelly Pope and his mother, Sherrell, an elementary school teacher. They guided him through their words and deeds as they dedicated themselves to serving the church and community. His parents also encouraged his involvement in the United Methodist Youth Fellowship and this provided another positive influence during his teen years. He felt drawn to a career helping others.
With compassion for those who are hurting, Pope served as a funeral service professional in Mississippi for several years. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Master of Science degree in counselor education, he became an instructor of funeral service technology with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College as well as a school counselor in public middle and high schools in Mississippi.
It was a confusing time of mixed emotions when he first began to sense God’s call into the ministry. He was already serving God and he could not understand why God would want him to be a preacher. He thought that surely there were others who were more qualified. He discussed his doubts with God and explained that he did not believe that he had the strengths necessary to serve in a pastoral ministry and he really did not wish to go back to school. After running from the call until he could run no more, he stopped asking questions and making excuses and just listened to what God was telling him. The message he received loud and clear was from Isaiah 41:10, 13 that he should not be afraid because the Lord is with him and will help and support him.
Since accepting the call, Pope has found a strong sense of peace and joy. Dena has been very supportive and understanding of him during these new experiences and the metamorphosis into the ministry that was so unexpected. In June 2013, he was appointed as a student pastor with the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church and shepherds Mt. Pleasant UMC and Barton UMC in Marshall County, Mississippi. In December, Pope completed his first semester at the Memphis Theological Seminary and he lives each day in eager anticipation to see what God has in store for his ministry.