By Woody Woodrick
Some church members come to Annual Conference looking for help or information.
Some church agencies come to Annual Conference seeking to offer help and information.
The two are getting together at the annual Mission Fair at the Jackson Convention Complex during the 2009 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference.
For years, the Mississippi Conference has only offered exhibitor space to UM-affiliated organizations to provide information about their ministries. This year space was made to exhibitors of non-affiliated groups.
“I picked up some things (at one booth), and I’m looking for some others,” said Johnnie Amerson of Preston-Deemer United Methodist Church. “Having these booths allows them to give us information we’re not able to see at church. It helps find what you might be looking for or see things you don’t know about.”
Some 70 spaces were made available to exhibitors, said Jorge Navarette of the conference staff who coordinated the Mission Fair, said all spaces are rented. He said exhibitors appear happy with the set-up. “All you have to do is walk through the area and see all the people talking to the exhibitors,” he said. “By and large there isn’t a bad spot.”
Bonnie Dillon of Columbia has been working in the booth for the General Board of Discipleship, particularly to promote Lay Speaking Ministries. She said her booth has had lots of visitors seeking material on church growth and supporting small churches.
“A lot of people like the Upper Room for Hard Times for prison ministries. A lot of churches are near satellite prisons,” she said. “This is a good way to get the word out about what we have.”
Ed Trimmer, chair of the religion department at UM-related Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., is making the school’s first appearance at the Mississippi Annual Conference. He, too, said he’s had lots of visitors. “I’m almost out of give-aways and it’s only Friday morning,” he said.
Trimmer said the booth gives Huntingdon an opportunity to show what it offers to potential students or parents of students. He noted that Huntingdon offers special tuition discounts to United Methodist students and offers degrees in youth ministry and Christian education.
“(Of nearby United Methodist colleges) we’re probably the one with the lowest visibility. We’re trying to raise our visibility. We target three conferences: the Alabama-West Florida Conference, the North Alabama Conference and the Mississippi Conference,” he said.
Mike Pickle is another first-time exhibitor, representing Family Life, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ. Pickle said visitors have been interested in materials about abstinence and supporting local churches and ministers. The organization is offering special discounts on some of its products exclusive to the Mississippi Annual Conference.
B.J. Johnston said he’s glad to be able to have access to potential viewers of the one-man play The Man from Aldersgate about John Wesley. “I go to almost exclusively United Methodist churches,” he said. “This is another launching pad to make the father of the United Methodist church available to them.
“I’ve had a lot of traffic right from the get-go. It has been wonderful.”
During his time at his booth on Friday, Johnston drew visitors by applying the makeup and costume he wears when performing.