By Woody Woodrick
Mississippi Methodists now have an opportunity to do a little evangelism, remind one another of their calling and support missions — all by simply driving their cars.
During Monday’s session of the Mississippi Annual Conference, Treasurer David Stotts announced that the conference has been approved for a specialty car tag. Those attending Annual Conference will have a chance to sign up for the tag and sign their names to a large replica as one of the original tag owners.
A minimum 300 car owners must register for the tag for it to be issued.
“We started talking about it back in 2002 when I first came to the conference,” Stotts said. “We finally decided this was a good time to start moving forward.”
Stotts said initial reaction to the idea met with some skepticism and smiles. However, the idea grew. Stotts talked to Buck Clark of Hollandale, a member of the Mississippi Senate and a United Methodist, at the 2007 Legislative breakfast sponsored by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. It was too late to sponsor a bill for 2007, but Clark introduced a bill to permit the specialty tag in 2008, and it was approved. All specialty tags must be approved by the legislature. Stotts received notice that the design had been approved on June 5.
The tag features a blue background. On the left side if the tag is an outline of the state of Mississippi with the United Methodist cross and flame logo. The opposite side has the letters “G” and “O.” Across the bottom is the Igniting Ministry slogan “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” The tag was designed by former Communications Coordinator Gwen Green and Cindy Clark of Cindy Clark Graphic Design in Madison.
Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Steve Casteel said specialty tags are required to have two letters. “UM” had been taken by the University of Mississippi. “Our commission is to go make disciples,” he said.
Those interested in buying the new tag must fill out an application and pay the $31 fee. Of that amount, $24 will be returned to the conference to fund missions. When tags are renewed annually, the $31 fee will be in addition to the cost of a traditional car tag.
Once 300 applications and payments have been received, Stotts said he will send those to the state Tax Commission. The commission will send a notice to the purchasers that they have been approved. The purchasers will then be able to take their current tag to their county tax office and swap it for the new tag. If 300 tags are purchased by mid-July, the tags should be available by January, he said. Those approved must exchange tags within 60 days or pay the $31 fee again.
Funds from the tag sales this year will be given to the 10 community centers around the state supported by the Mississippi Conference. “We thought about in the midst of (budget) cuts, this would generate money to go to missions,” Casteel said. “It’s a creative way for us to generate income, and a cool way to witness.”
Reaching the minimum 300 tags would generate $7,200 for the centers. If 1,000 tags are purchased, the centers will share $24,000 or $120,000 on sales of 5,000 tags. If half of the average number of people attending Mississippi Conference churches on Sundays (37,066) purchase tags, the funds jump to $889,572.
Stotts said the conference Council on Finance and Administration will review each year where the tag funds will go.
Mississippi is the second conference in the denomination to offer a specialty tag. The Baltimore-Washington Conference first offered a specialty tag about two years ago.