By Woody Woodrick
Mississippi needs to respond to its public education problems with the same sense of urgency it showed following Hurricane Katrina, the state’s top educator said.
Dr. Hank Bounds told members of the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church that great strides can be made in education if citizens adopt a sense of urgency.
“Imagine what would happen if all the churches in this state said they’re going to move with the same sense of urgency to save kids,” Bounds said during the Congregations for Children worship service at the 18th session of the Mississippi Annual Conference meeting at Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson.
“My prayer is that something big will start here, and we will all move with a sense of urgency,” said Bounds, the state Superintendent of Education and a member of Christ UMC.
Bounds was one of several speakers during the service that featured a children-youth choir.
Bishop Hope Morgan Ward echoed Bounds’ call, urging each of the state’s 1,147 UM churches to save one child. Or two. “Wouldn’t it be great if when people see United Methodists they say, ‘those are people who care about children,’” she said.
The conference resumes today at 6:30 a.m. with a 5K run and walk. Most of the day’s business will revolved around the clergy. Retiring clergy will be honored at a worship service at 11 a.m. Just prior to that event, the conference will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the denomination granting full clergy rights to women. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. will be the ordination service.
The conference will ordain 22 pastors as deacons and elders in full connection, while 24 pastors are retiring.
Monday, following morning worship led by Bishop Tom Bickerton, the plenary session moved right into the conference’s theme: Arise! Shine! Live in the Light. Conference Lay Leader Dr. Aubrey Lucas of Hattiesburg spoke about the many ministries conducted by and for laypeople in Mississippi.
Lucas was followed by Ed Blakeslee and members of the Mississippi United Methodist Katrina Response team. Blakeslee continued to emphasize the connectional system as vital to recovery efforts. He said he hopes those present understand that “we still need prayers and we still need help.”
“I have much appreciation for what’s been done already,” said Blakeslee, a member of Trinity UMC in Gulfport. “What ever we get done is because of (working with) the local church, the bishop, the Cabinet and the volunteers.”
Blakeslee said his big concern is that the flow of volunteers will dwindle. “I’m concerned about what might happen after the summer. I’m concerned whether volunteers will continue to come if we have a storm somewhere else.”
Chris Cumbest, who is in charge of church recovery for the conference, said numerous churches recovering from Katrina have discovered at their doors many folks who had never visited those churches before but have come seeking physical and spiritual help.
He also shared the story of Clermont Harbor United Methodist Church, which was left with only its front steps after Katrina roared through. A group from North Carolina found itself at Clermont Harbor, near Waveland, after getting lost. A bond was formed with the church members. On June 10, the group from North Carolina began a project to rebuild the church in seven days. Crews are working around the clock to have worship in the church June 18.
Tom Hazelwood of United Methodist Committee on Relief also addressed the conference.
“It is amazing the work that has taken place in your churches,” Hazelwood said. “I am continually amazed at the work done in the communities and by your pastors. I rejoice, and I know that all of heaven rejoices with you.”
Despite its many years of disaster experience, Hazelwood said UMCOR learns from each storm. “We learned many things from this one,” he said.
In her annual address to the conference, Ward outlined some goals of the conference for the next year. While urging continued help with the current recovery, Ward also called on each church to begin preparing for the next disaster.
“We find ourselves in hurricane season again,” she said. “We have learned much about how to be more ready.”
She asked each church to do three things
Ward gave each church 10 questions to answer to help develop a disaster plan.
Ward also spoke about churches assessing their effectiveness in ministry. She said 12 indicators of church health will become part of the charge conference process to help churches determine where their ministry should go.
“This isn’t about reporting to me or the district superintendent but to yourselves. You are the charge conference,” she said.
Ward also pointed to new church development, calling up Pat Ward and his wife Sarah Ward, who will be forming a new congregation in Oxford. The Wards have been part of The Orchard congregation in Tupelo, and that church will play a key role in the new congregation’s development.