Conference staff welcomes 7 new team members


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

United Methodists know that the constant in the denomination is change.

Such is the case with the conference staff. Four new folks have joined the Connectional Ministries staff, while three newcomers have joined the staff in Administration-Finance-Benefits. 

Jorge (George) Navarette has joined the staff to lead efforts in mission development, Fitzgerald Lovett will work with ethnic local churches, Michelle Foster will work with Safe Sanctuaries and Roger Shock will work with young people’s ministries. Jackie McGough is administrative assistant for benefits, Amanda Ragland is administrative assistant for United Methodist Committee on Relief and Angela Griffin is a part-time accounts receivable and benefits assistant. 

With plenty of materials available for churches on missions, outreach and discipleship, Navarette said he hopes to develop relationships with churches and guide them to the resources they need. 

“I’m exploring things that will help people with a practical approach when they put into practice what they already know,” said Navarette, who joined the conference after working with Habitat for Humanity. “Most everybody knows what they need to do, they just need motivation or the right perspective so they can apply what they know.”

He said he sees a need to “incorporate people into knowing Jesus Christ and his saving grace.”

Navarette is a member of Crossgates UMC in Brandon.

Lovett said he sees his job as serving as a resource person for African-American churches and pastors. He said many African-American pastors feel isolated. “When I was at Yazoo City (St. Stephens UMC), I would meet with the United Methodist pastors and be the only African-American,” he said. “Then when I met with the African-American pastors, I would be the only United Methodist.” 

To help with that situation, Lovett said he wants to use two covenant groups as models for the rest of the conference. Those are located in the Delta and in the Hattiesburg area. 

While he seeks to develop relationships among African-American pastors, he also wants to see more interaction among African-American pastors and pastors of other races. Lovett said he plans to follow up on the gatherings held during Lent in each county. These meetings were held to hear thoughts and experiences on racism. He said as pastors develop relationships among themselves, he would like to see those relationships become more public to serve as an example to others. 

Lovett said one of the key aspects of his duties is the Convocation on the Black Church, held each year at Rust College. He said the event plays a vital role in developing leadership among clergy and laity. This year’s event is set for Oct. 20. 

Lovett joins the conference staff from Greenwood Wesley UMC and the Greenwood District staff. He also will serve as pastor at Middlebrook UMC in Jackson. 

Foster will work to “inform, educate and inspire each local church and charge to see the theological and Christ-centered reasons for making churches Safe Sanctuaries.” 

Safe Sanctuaries is a program that helps churches intentionally guarding against child abuse, abuse of vulnerable adults and false allegations of such abuse. 

“This is a ministry that promotes safety and nurture and Christ-like love to children, youth, vulnerable adults and those in ministry with them,” said Foster, who also serves on the clergy staff at Galloway Memorial UMC in Jackson. 

A report on Safe Sanctuaries was presented at Annual Conference, but some of the wording sparked debate. Some saw the language of the report as making certain aspects mandatory, and, therefore, harder and more expensive on smaller churches. Foster said the discussion will be helpful for her. 

“I think the discussion at Annual Conference will be helpful in that it showed the interest within churches who what to approach this type of ministry in a practical way and implement this ministry in their local congregation.”

Shock steps into a position that has been open for the past two years. “We’re going to look at new ways of doing conference events,” he said. “We’re going to reshape and re-culture the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. We’re going to create district councils on youth ministry teams. 

“We’ve got to empower students to lead in Mississippi.”