Special to the Advocate
Two years ago the Florida Annual Conference selected the Mississippi Annual conference to receive a $90,000 gift over three years for new church development.
To date, Mississippi has received $60,000 and has used these funds to support ministry in at least two of our new church starts.
On April 25-28, the Florida Conference provided Mississippi with another gift in the person of the Rev. Candace Lewis, a new church planter and a national church consultant. The offices of Strengthening the Black Church in the 21st Century and the Parish and Community Development Ministries invited Lewis to the Mississippi Annual Conference to help assess the state of the African-American church in the annual conference including new church plants that have African-American pastors.
Lewis is the founding pastor of New Life church in Jacksonville, Fla. New Life was begun in 1996 with no members and has grown to more than 250 members today. In July, Lewis will be appointed to serve as a staff member of the United Methodist Church’s Path 1 new-church start initiative.
Path 1 is a new ministry of the General Board of Discipleship to seek and equip at least 1,000 church planters who will enable annual conferences to start at least 650 new congregations, each of which commits to start a new congregation within their first 10 years of ministry. To learn more information about Path 1, visit www.path1.org.
At a recent meeting, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Mississippi Conference and cabinet members expressed a desire to help strengthen the conference’s African American churches. The Rev. Jackson invited Rev. Fitzgerald Lovett, the conference’s Strengthening the Black Church in the 21st Century staff person for the conference’s emphasis on racial reconciliation, to collaborate with him in helping conference address this challenge. Lovett accepted the invitation.
It was decided that Lewis would facilitate a session with selected African-American laity and clergy of the annual conference at Central United Methodist Church in Jackson on April 25. The goal of the session was to assess the opportunities and challenges of the African American church in the annual conference. More 40 lay and clergy African Americans took part in the session. In addition two African-American district superintendents — the Rev. Vicki Tandy (Senatobia District) and the Rev. Tim Thompson (Meridian District) — attended the gathering. Ward also attended, welcoming the group with a message from Acts 3. Ward emphasized the story of how Peter and John met a lame man asking for alms at the entrance of the temple gate called Beautiful (NIV). Peter and John told him that while they did not have silver or gold, but that in the name of Jesus Christ he should rise up and walk. Ward encouraged those present to do likewise. She then led a song to demonstrate their enthusiasm to respond to their calling. Lewis then led the group in a strategy session.
The next day Lewis visited the 8:15 a.m. worship service at Anderson UMC South. She preached at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Later that same day, Lewis met with a small group of those who had attended the Saturday gathering in the conference office to continue the discussion and to formulate specific plans
After Lewis’ time with the SBC-21 groups, she visited with the Rev. Tim Howard the founding pastor of Anderson South, the new church launch team, the Rev. Joe May and Jackson to discuss their calling for ministry and their plans to move their ministry to South Jackson. Lewis said she was impressed by the Anderson church helping to “birth” this new church as well as with Howard and his launch team.
On April 29, Lewis and Jackson traveled to the Seashore District where they met with several persons including District Superintendent Bill McAlilly, the Rev. Nathaniel Barkum and his wife Teresa and the Rev. Patrick Thompson, pastor at Ramsay Memorial UMC, in regard to African-American or multi-ethnic new church start possibilities in the district.
Lewis has written a synopsis of her visit to our conference, which will be used as a guide for work in new church development, racial reconciliation and to help strengthen existing African-American churches.