Mississippi Conference to work on innovative ministries in '06


By Woody Woodrick

Advocate Editor

Christian ministry will take many forms in 2006, but one factor will continue to shadow the Mississippi Conference during the next year — Hurricane Katrina.

Five focus areas were introduced to the conference during 2005, and many ministries have been geared toward emphasizing those areas: health and wellness; missions, congregational development, small membership churches and racial reconciliation. However, helping the Gulf Coast recover and rebuild following Katrina will also play a prominent role in 2006.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said she sees the conference “living in unity with each other as we welcome partners in disaster recovery.”

“One of the top concerns in 2006 will be the continued long- term displacement of evacuees across Mississippi and the whole United States,” said the Rev. John Moore, director of Connectional Ministries. “Our conference will collaborate with the Louisiana and Texas conferences in an effort to assist evacuees to put together family life recovery plans.”

Moore cited some groups already moving forward in their work in the five focus areas.

“Health and wellness and racial reconciliation are starting the year with good direction and well-defined purposes,” Moore said.

The conference Commission on Religion and Race plans to hold its first Journey Toward the Light: Conversations on Race event on Jan. 7.  A special service of remembrance for Gulfside Assembly is scheduled at the retreat’s Waveland property. The facility was wiped out by Katrina.

Religion and Race chair Twick Morrison of Vicksburg said Journey Toward the Light will continue to make significant progress.

“I sincerely believe that Journey Toward the Light: Conversations On Race will reach beyond the sphere of conference leaders to the hearts of concerned persons in local churches,” she said. The Rev. Embra Jackson, administrative assistant to the bishop, said several health and wellness events are planned for the year. They include:

    Training of volunteers to serve as the annual conference Health and Wellness Resource Network Group.

    Creation of at least one new model of health and wellness for each district.

    Creation of a committee to assist with the development and implementation of a strategy to improve the health of both the laity and clergy.

    The Rev. Lindsey Robinson of the Connectional Ministries staff is working with small membership churches. He foresees:

    An intentional strategy for hearing about and celebrating the ministry of small membership churches.

    The small membership church initiative building a collaborative network to maximize the sharing of resources.

    More specialized training opportunities for clergy and laity to learn about the unique dynamics of small membership congregations.

Moore said a key step in congregational development began in 2005 when the emphasis moved from buildings to congregations. “The old model of funding ‘church building additions’ as a means to revitalization will hopefully become history. The path of congregational development is a spiritual one and will provide a fruitful future in the work of God’s kingdom,” he said.

Getting a picture of conference finances for 2006 is hard to do, says David Stotts, conference treasurer. The close-out date for 2005 apportionment payments is Jan. 11. “The conference has been so generous this year, starting with the tsunami (in December 2004) and continuing through Katrina, it’s hard to tell what will be received by Jan. 11,” he said.

Last year the conference paid 87.06 percent of its budget.

Other actions anticipated for 2006:

    Hiring a conference youth ministry staff person. The process was halted by Katrina. The goal is to have a person in place during the first quarter of 2006.

    The Hispanic ministries emphasis has been redirected toward the Gulf Coast. The Rev. Sally Bevill works in the area of case management and advocacy. In 2006 the Rev. Jim Beam-Ingram, chairperson of Hispanic ministries, will work  with Bevill in recovery ministry in the Hispanic-Latino communities.

    In the first quarter, Children’s Coordinator Becky Trask will be teaming with Ward in the resumption of district rallies around Congregations for Children. The ministry is a collaborative effort with the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi and the Catholic Diocese of Jackson to focus on political, social and ethical issues surrounding the well-being of the children in Mississippi.