District staff 'probing' rural ministry


Special to the Advocate

Most United Methodists likely have never heard of “probe staff.” 

Yet, the concept is being used in the Mississippi Conference. The idea is outlined in the 2004 Book of Discipline as being “composed of the pastors and other staff assigned to a geographic region to explore possibilities for cooperation and developing strategy for improved ministries to persons”  (¶ 206, 3, h). 

The Rev. Dr. Doyce Gunter helped develop the legislation that led to the inclusion of the probe staff in the Book of Discipline. District Superintendent Carl Grubbs invited Gunter, now retired, to begin a probe staff in the Tupelo District. 

The Itawamba County probe staff ministry is in its second year. The pastoral leadership of this area includes Gunter, Grubbs and the Revs. Ronnie Goodwin, Jim Fisher, Harold Manning, Jimmy Criddle, Eugene Stockstill, Buddy Smith, Perry Carr, Frank Newell and retired clergy couple Jean and Jim Threadgill. These pastors meet twice a month to study the upcoming lectionary, pray, share joys and concerns and to focus on the needs of the United Methodist churches in their care.  

From the start, a major concern was the lack of health care. The county hospital closed a few years ago, and the county has only two clinics. Therefore, a primary focus for the group has been a parish nurse ministry. 

The probe staff has also been instrumental in facilitating the renovation of the Wesley Foundation Center and upgrading the program at the Itawamba Community College facility. Other projects have included a vegetable gardening program and the development of a cluster/probe staff coalition that will enhance the work of both groups. 

On the horizon, the probe staff is beginning to work on the demographics of the county and making plans to facilitate ministry to the growing edges of the communities, along with facilitating planned cooperative work with other denominations. 

One of the strengthening aspects of probe staffing is the constant “probing of the staff” to identify gifts and graces within the leadership. The staff has discovered that it possesses a majority of needed gifts, and the individual leaders can be seen carrying out ministry throughout the whole county. 

In effect, the strength of the probe staff concept is that probe staffing is about staff probing. Its focus is tying the person with the gift to the need for the gift — no matter which community either calls home.