Katrina remains atop list of news stories for 2006


Analysis by Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

When 2006 began, Hurricane Katrina was just four months past, and many in Mississippi were still in shock from her devastation. 

Some 16 months later, the storm continues to have a big impact on the state and the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church. Several of the top stories published in the Mississippi United Methodist Advocate during 2006 related to Katrina. 

In January, friends and alumni of Gulfside Assembly in Waveland gathered at the site of the facility, which was wiped out by the storm. An estimated 150 people came to share memories and hopes for the future of the campground. Gulfside was often the only refuge for African-Americans traveling along the Gulf Coast during the civil rights era. 

One of the most pressing needs during the recovery from Katrina has been housing for the hundreds of volunteers coming from around the country to help. In June, a storage and housing building opened on the grounds of d’Iberville Heritage UMC. The building was a special project of United Methodists in Indiana, who contributed much of the funds and labor for the project. Modular buildings were placed at Gulfside and Ocean Springs, while additional permanent structures are being built at Vancleave and Nugent. Plans call for another building on the western end of the Gulf Coast. 

In addition, Seashore Assembly in Biloxi has provided living space and storage space for volunteer teams as it has rebuilt from the storm. Seashore sits just across U.S. 90 from the Gulf of Mexico.

Seashore Retirement Community in Biloxi, operated by Mississippi Methodist Senior Services, Inc., was placed on the market and a buyer found. Seashore, which is next door to Seashore Assembly, was one of the first retirement communities constructed by Senior Services, but in consideration of residents’ safety and other factors, the decision was made to relocate to a site farther inland.

Recovering from a hurricane is more than replacing buildings. With many UM churches damaged and members sometimes scattered across the nation, direction for rebuilding and recovering was needed. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward appointed the Rev. Chris Cumbest to serve as church recovery coordinator for the conference. Cumbest has worked to help churches affected by Katrina evaluate their ministry and determine what next steps to take in light of the hurricane. The first Katrina Church Recovery Appeal special offering was collected on Aug. 27. The Council of Bishops established the appeal to assist UM churches and institutions on the Gulf Coast. 

While Katrina continues to make an impact on the conference, other events of note took place in 2006. Development of the A2 Indicators was a significant event in 2006. The A2 Indicators, based on Acts 2, is a tool to help churches evaluate their ministries, strengths and weaknesses. A2 assessments were shared during charge conferences and helped shift the annual meetings from simply a time to fill out forms to a process of self examination to see where churches are being effective and where they might improve. Results from the A2 Indicators are still being reported. 

At Annual Conference in June Ward and Bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa of the Zimbabwe Area formalized the Chabadza Covenant. “Chabadza” is a Shona word meaning to join someone already at work. The covenant calls for the two conferences to work together in various ways. The conference offering for Chabadza netted over $130,000. Groups from Mississippi have visited Zimbabwe, and another is going in the spring. The Rev. Lloyd Nyarota of Zimbabwe visited Mississippi in the fall. Director of communications and special projects in his home conference, Nyarota attended the United Methodist Association of Communicators annual meeting, then visited the Mississippi Conference and the Baltimore-Washington Conference. 

Another highlight of Annual Conference was the recognition of 50 years of women having full clergy rights in the denomination. Ruth Wood, the first woman to be ordained an elder in Mississippi, was part of an emotional service that recognized the struggle and accomplishments of clergywomen in the conference. 

Health and wellness issues have been at the forefront of the conference during 2006. Two medical clinics, led in large part by United Methodist churches, opened in the fall. Craft House Ministries in Jackson opened in September, while Good Samaritan Health Center opened in October in Greenville. 

Twenty-two pastors were ordained in 2006, while two noteworthy retirements took place this year. The Rev. Keith Tonkel, pastor at Wells Memorial United Methodist Church for 35 years, retired in June. He continues to serve the church in retirement, but his long tenure at the church reflected the unique ministry developed at the mid-town Jackson church. 

Also, Nell Grissom retired as executive director of Wesley House community center in Meridian. Grissom served the center for 40 years. It developed a reputation for being on the cutting edge of dealing with and assisting sexually abused children. 

In 2005, Society of St. Andrew, a hunger-fighting group, opened a field office in Mississippi at Wood Institute in Mathiston. The ecumenical non-profit organization uses a variety of programs to battle hunger, but the most well-known are its gleaning programs and potato drops. In gleaning, volunteers gather produce from fields that have already been picked. The food has usually been deemed unmarketable.  

For 2006, Mississippi SoSA Director Bob Fritchey set a goal of saving and distributing 1 million pounds of fresh produce through his office. That goal was exceeded by 135,000 pounds by mid-October and the goal adjusted to 1.5 million pounds. 

In September, the Conference Council on Youth Ministries launched “Pray Without Ceasing,” which calls on a different church to be in prayer for the conference every day for a year. Each of the 11 districts was assigned a month. 

Congregations for Children, an ecumenical group which advocates for children, was revived during the year. Sponsored primarily by the United Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches in Mississippi, the group sponsored a Children’s Sabbath in October at Jackson’s Anderson United Methodist Church.