Bishop challenges UMW 'chickens'


By Kay Barksdale
Special to the Advocate

NATCHEZBishop Hope Morgan Ward challenged Mississippi’s United Methodist Women to be “Easter chickens forever” at their annual meeting Sept. 21. 

Building on a story told by the Rev. Will Campbell about a fluffy, lovable, purple Easter chicken that became a mean Rhode Island Red when it grew up and was placed in the coop with the other chickens, Ward charged the gathering of 375 women to be “faithful to this life to which we are called.” 

Speaking at the historic Jefferson Street United Methodist Church, Ward opened the weekend meeting which followed the theme, “Resurrection Women: Building Peace Piece by Piece.” She urged the gathering to remember the clear call to be peace makers and assured them that God still wants to give peace to all people. 

“We have something to say to a world that tells us to be afraid, be terribly afraid,” Ward said. She reminded her listeners that the way in which Christians engage a difficult issue is more important than their personal opinions, recalling John Wesley’s words: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” 

She invited the UMW to tackle two important goals as they continue their work to improve the lives of women and children. First, she asked them to continue to emphasize in their local churches the goals of Congregations for Children. She also charged them to lobby for full funding for education and to get behind the work of state Superintendent of Education Hank Bounds to support Mississippi’s high school students in his efforts to end the problem of high school drop-outs. 

Her second request was that UMW groups become actively engaged in the conversations that are planned to take place in every county during Lent in 2007 about ways to celebrate the Gospel Feast. She asked: “Forty years out from the Civil Rights Movement, how far are we from the Promised Land?   

“God wants us to live as teachable, humble spirits,” Ward said. “I challenge you to be Easter chickens forever!” 

Prior to Friday evening’s opening worship, more than 150 women participated in a tour of three of the historic churches in downtown Natchez. After the service, UMW members in the Brookhaven District hosted a reception in the Christian Life Center of the church.  

The Saturday session opened with a service of remembrance for those women who have died during the past year. Lining the balcony rails of the sanctuary were some of the more than 200 prayer shawls created by local units. The shawls were distributed to the districts to be given to persons who are ill, grieving, suffering loss or experiencing other difficulties. 

Among the business of the day, recipients of the Frances Perry Scholarship were announced. Receiving $1,000 scholarships from the United Methodist Women for 2006 are Diane L. Braman and Ada C. Williams, Memphis Theological Seminary; Benjamin Hartford Butler, Elizabeth Carpenter, Travis Carpenter and Amy Denise Pearson Roller, Asbury Theological Seminary; Pamela Cameron and Russell Casteel, Candler School of Theology; and Amanda Lea Seward, St. Paul School of Theology. United Methodist Women contribute $4 per person each year to the scholarship fund, which was endowed in honor of the late Frances Perry. 

The status of Arlean Hall, the UMW retreat center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is still undetermined. An insurance settlement of $770,008.43 is on deposit with the Mississippi Methodist Foundation. The board of Arlean Hall, chaired by Mary Beth Bounds of Pearl, has requested a feasibility report from the City of Biloxi and is contracting with a structural engineer to report on the structural soundness of the building.  

Sixty-nine UMW units received special recognition for completing the requirements to be Mission Today units. A budget of $237,400 was also approved for 2007. The proposed budget represents an increase of $2,500 over the 2006 budget. 

Nancy Bearden of Atlanta, president of the UMW Core Planning Group for the Southeastern Jurisdiction, served as worship leader for the meeting, and the Rev. Victoria Sizemore Tandy, superintendent of the Senatobia District, was celebrant for Saturday’s closing service of communion.  

First United Methodist Church of Tupelo extended an invitation to host the next annual meeting, which will be held Sept. 28-29, 2007.