Tupelo group pays final visit to Wood

8/19/2008

Special to the Advocate

On its final day of operations, Wood Institute received a group of visitors who wanted to commemorate what the Mathiston facility presented.

The campus, which officially closed its doors June 30, had served as a college and retreat center for more than 100 years.

The Wesley folks arrived June 29 in time for lunch, and were joined by the Rev. Ron Barham, director of Wood Institute. He conducted the tour as his last official duty at Wood Institute. The group of 12 was the last church group to be on campus and to worship in the Cathedral in the Pines.

Barham shared with the group briefly about his four years at Wood Institute, and then shared some possibilities for what could happen on the historic missionary site. He told the group he knew of some persons and groups who are interested in the Wood campus.

The group walked around the campus, as some had come for the first time to the shady campus.

They settled in the open-air cathedral for worship with Barham, and a history lesson about Wood from Dr. Doyce Gunter. Although they had brought huge fans in anticipation of a hot day, they were not needed as a breeze blew through the cathedral.

Barham began the worship service with scripture from the book of Genesis in which the children of Israel at one point were looking for Jacob’s wells in the wilderness. This was a “looking-back” experience in order to receive blessings (water) to still forge ahead into the future that God had for them. Barham asked us to close their eyes and visualize the entire scene and experience as the covenant people of God looked back at their roots in order to go ahead to whatever and wherever God was leading them.

The parallels of the scripture and Wood Institute were meaningful as the several in the group thought about the two missionary agencies/institutions and the many persons whose lives were touched by God. A few in the group had been blessed with life-changing experiences at Wood.

Gunter then shared much of the history of Wood College from its beginning in the late 1800s as Bennett Academy, and going forward to Dr. Felix Sutphin’s 30-year presidency at Wood Junior College, with his creativity and keeping the fires burning. Story after story could be shared of how individual lives were changed by the students’ year or two spent in their formative years at Wood. Many of these were recorded in the History of Wood College which was compiled recently. Many of those students who went to Wood were open to God’s call which they received while students there, and they became Methodist (United Methodist) ministers in the Mississippi Conference.

Wood College was a mission school and was carried forward by the forerunner of the Board of Missions in New York and the Women’s Division of the board. The property is still owned by the Women’s Division.

This trip concluded with the group placing a plaque above the altar at the front of the cathedral to commemorate the occasion. The plaque reads: “Wesley UMC of Tupelo worshipped here on Sunday, June 29, 2008. This was the last United Methodist group to use the Cathedral before the Wood closure on June 30, 2008.”

Editor’s Note: The Rev. Ron Barham died on July 20.