By Woody Woodrick
Lee Smith has February 26 circled on his calendar. It will be a big day at work.
Smith, building and facilities manager at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson, must coordinate to large meetings starting an hour apart. One is the Mississippi Poultry Association, the other the Mississippi Arts Commission. Both are large groups, and the Art Commission will be honoring author John Grisham, among other recipients of Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. Gov. Haley Barbour is expected to attend.
While that day will be particularly hectic for Smith and his staff, they are used to having groups meet at the church. Each year during the 90-day legislative session, Galloway serves as a meeting place for a variety of groups and organizations doing business at the Capitol. The groups range from a statewide 4-H gathering to the Greenville Chamber of Commerce to the American Association of Retired Persons.
“Galloway wants to be a place open to the community,” said Galloway senior pastor the Rev. Joey Shelton. “We try to meet those needs. With legislative functions, we’re not promoting anything. We’re simply offering space.”
Lee Smith, building and facilities manager at Galloway, estimated about two dozen groups hold meals or receptions at the church during the legislative session. Galloway is located just across the street from the Capitol.
“We have quite a few nonprofit organizations that meet over here,” Shelton said. “A nonprofit group might have a day at the Legislature and then come over here to have a meal and debrief and reflect.”
Groups vary in size from fewer than 20 to a few hundred. Smith said the church has two large reception rooms, a gymnasium and a parlor that can all be used by groups. In addition, Sunday school classrooms can be arranged for meetings. Smith estimated the church can accommodate up to about 350 for a meal.
The food service needs of the groups run the gamut, literally, from breakfast to dinner. For example, the Mississippi Conference bishops have been hosting a Legislative breakfast at Galloway for several years. Other groups serve lunch, some simply have snacks at a reception and others want a sit down dinner.
Smith estimated that 75 percent of the groups that meet at the church use the church’s food services, led by Chef Michael Moore. However, a few have catered meals. The Mississippi Catfish Farmers fry their own catfish.
Smith said the church board of trustees sets the fees for usages, which cover the room costs and staffing.
While the church primarily offers convenient meeting space, Smith said holding these events is an effective evangelism tool. Smith said he knows of several members at Galloway whose first contact with the church was through a special event.
“You get people coming here who may not have a church home,” Smith said. “You never know who you’re about to minister to. They might see something here that attracts them. There’s always an opportunity to make a connection.”
Sometimes the connection might not be what guests expect. Galloway sponsors a ministry called Grace Place that provides meals, clothing and toiletries to the homeless in downtown Jackson. Sometimes folks taking part in Grace Place encounter those attending a special function.
“One of the things we think about regularly what it means to be God’s house, a place of hospitality sitting between the Capitol and Smith Park and what those two places represent,” Shelton said. “We try to be faithful to what that means on both ends.”
Smith Park is a small park located next door to the church where the homeless often gather.
While taking no stance on issues proposed by groups that use their buildings, those at Galloway like to think making the facility available has a positive impact on those working in the legislature.
“Especially when people who are not members here come, they bring a sense of reverence through the doors,” Shelton said. “Perhaps that helps with the conversation. For members, there is a reason they’re here. People are drawn to this place, and perhaps it is holy ground and that does make a difference.”