Post-Katrina assistance garners evangelism award


By the Advocate 

After Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, lots of folks knew what needed t be done. Mark Gehres was one of those who stepped in and did it. 

“This isn’t what I do,” Gehres told reporters after helping Ocean Springs St. Paul United Methodist Church establish a tent city for volunteers and coordinating the needs of those living in the tents. 

For his efforts in demonstrating the love of God to others, Gehres was named the 2007 lay recipient of the Harry Denman Award for the Mississippi Conference. 

“Mark heard God’s call and did it just because it needed to be done,” said the Rev. Mitchell Hedgepeth, Gehres’ pastor, in presenting the award. 

Other awards presented on June 12 at Annual Conference included the Francis Asbury Higher Education Award to Susan Voyuvich of Wiggins, the Tobias Gibson Award to the Rev. Wayne Webster by the Commission on Archives and History and the Emma Elzy Award for Racial Reconciliation presented to the Rev. Keith Tonkel and Wells Memorial UMC. 

In addition, several scholarship awards were announced. 

The Rev. Prentiss Gordon Sr. was named the Denman clergy recipient for his many years of faithful service. The Rev. Chris Young recalled something Gordon told him when he was a young pastor on Gordon’s staff. Young had made a statement about evangelism being more about reaching people for Christ than numbers.

“Prentiss said, ‘That’s true but remember each of those numbers represents one person who needs to hear the gospel,’” Young said. “I’ve never forgotten those words.” 

The awards are made possible each year by The Foundation for Evangelism, an affiliate of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Denman Evangelism Awards are presented at each annual conference. 

This award is named for Dr. Harry Denman, a Methodist layman. Denman was committed to strengthening the  denomination through teaching, preaching, programming and personal leadership. For 27 years he led the Board of Evangelism. Among the many things that he began was the Upper Room Ministries. 

Tonkel served Wells Memorial UMC for more than 30 years. During that time Wells has come to exemplify the idea of "open hearts, open minds, open doors." Under the leadership of Tonkel since 1968, Wells has established a long legacy of promoting racial harmony and reconciliation both in the church and in the community. 

Webster, pastor at Brookhaven First UMC, was cited for his ability to share the history of the United Methodist Church in Mississippi through the portrayal of figures such as Tobias Gibson (who was the first circuit rider into the territory) and Francis Asbury. 

He weaves a heavy dose of Methodist history into the class on Wesleyan theology he teaches for the Course of Study at Millsaps College. Webster and his wife the Rev. Carolyn Webster directed historical dramas throughout the bicentennial Jurisdictional Conference in 1984. In his pastorates, Webster has taught classes on Methodist history and doctrine. 

Voyuvich was cited for her many years of service to the Wesley Foundation at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston. During the past year, Voyuvich pulled together funds and volunteers to build “The Barn,” a facility for the Wesley Foundation and the Perk community. The center provides a place for students of all backgrounds to gather, hang out and attend worship. 

The Committee on Higher Education and Campus Ministry sponsors the Cooper Fund. It provides two grants of $1,000 each to students who are juniors or seniors in an accredited college or university and two grants of $1,000 each to students in an accredited seminary. All students must plan to enter the full-time professional ministry of The United Methodist Church. 

Recipients include:

  • John Wesley Pepper of Batesville, a junior at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus
  • The Rev. Charles K. McGill III of Preston, a junior at the University of West Alabama
  • Ryan Paul Parker of Hattiesburg, Duke Divinity School
  • The Rev. Frank Newell of Fulton, Memphis Theological Seminary. 

The committee presented four awards of $500 each. Funds for this award come from a percentage of the offerings taken in the Mississippi Conference on United Methodist Student Day in November. 

The recipients include:

  • Hunter C. Berch of Starkville, an entering freshman at Millsaps College
  • Clifford E. Coile of Greenwood, an entering freshman at Millsaps
  • Jonathan S. Ebelhar of Brandon
  • Donald Charles Munro IV of Biloxi.