Doors transform meeting center


Large crown turns out for first Trans4mation

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

On a day where transforming the world was the goal, United Methodists have at least transformed the Jackson Convention Complex.

The main meeting rooms of the complex are surrounding by doors decorated representing the ministry of participating churches. More than 150 doors ring the arena.

Thursday was dubbed “Trans4mation” where those arriving in Jackson early could hear speakers addressing issues such as urban ministry, new church development and ministry to the poor. The Rev. Rudy Rasmus of Houston, Texas, spoke on urban ministry, while the Rev. Steve Sjogren spoke on new church development. Chris Lahr of Philadelphia, Pa., will speak this morning on ministry to the poor, followed by a panel discussion.

Last night, transforming ministry was celebrated at the first Trans4mation Gala dinner.

Annual Conference officially opens this afternoon at 2 p.m. with worship. However, events began taking place at 7 a.m. Trans4mation continues at 8 a.m. and registration resumes at the same time.

The opening plenary is scheduled for 3 p.m. Laity and clergy executive sessions are scheduled for 4 p.m.

The Laity Banquet is scheduled for 5 p.m., and worship at 7:30 p.m. will be led by the Rev. Rudy Rasmus of Houston, Texas, who also led Thursday night’s worship.

“When we asked for the number of doors being brought by each district, we counted about 130,” said the Rev. Wayne Webster of Brookhaven who coordinated the effort. “We have more than 150, which is much better than we expected. Any they are very creative.

“The idea was that to use the doors not only to decorate the stage, but to use them to provide some boundaries in the back and along the sides so that the front continues around the room.”

Pastors Larry Sappington, Scott Wright and Harold Robinson volunteered to put the doors on stands. They quickly ran out of wood and turned to connecting doors with hinges so two doors held up each other.

“When we first got here (at 8:30 a.m.), people were just stacking them in the corner. We had to pick some for the stage, and then they just poured in,” Wright said. “We thought we had caught up about lunch time and were nearly done. Then the Tupelo District showed up.”

The Tupelo District brought 24 doors in one shipment, the Seashore District 22 and the Meridian District had more than 20. Many others were brought in by individual churches.

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward had asked churches to decorate doors to tie into The United Methodist Church’s new campaign called “10,000 Doors,” which focuses on the many doors for newcomers to enter and ways for members to go out into the world.

“The doors are wonderful creations,” Ward said. “They express who we are at our very best.”

Sjogren, who has started churches and writes about new church development, said he hopes those who attended his afternoon session will “realize that the life of God is present in the local church. The potential is there for something amazing to happen.”

 The Rev. Ethel Magee of St. James UMC in Magnolia attended both sessions and said she learned that reaching beyond church doors isn’t complicated. “I can take back to my church what (Rasmus) said about taking water out to the streets with a little card attached saying something about coming tour church.”

Larry Pupa of Meridian Poplar Springs UMC praised both presentations. “The message was invigorating,” he said. “We need that sometimes. Things can become routine, and we need that lift.

“As a lay person, I think I’m inspired and have some more specific things I can do. I like the prayer ‘god if you give it to me, I’ll give it away.’

“The speakers gave us some concrete things I can use in my lay ministry.”

Among the highlights of the gala was the presentation of the inaugural Trans4mation Awards presented to those who have exemplified the four foci of the denomination: Developing principled leaders, creating new places for new people by starting congregations and renewing existing ones, engaging in ministry with the poor and stamping out killer diseases.

Three awards were presented. The honorees include:

• Dee Thornton Abbott of Hattiesburg and her late sister Frances Thornton Smith for leadership
• Leola Dillard of Yazoo City for aiding the poor
• Liz Coleclough of Memphis for fighting killer diseases

In addition, recipients of the traditional awards presented an Annual Conference were announced. They included:

• Emma K. Elzy Award for Racial Reconciliation, Gov. William F. Winter
• Harry Denman Evangelism Award, Sybil Arant of Sunflower
• Tobias Gibson Award for Methodist history, Elbert R. Hilliard of Jackson
• United Methodist Women grant, Rev. Ann Kaufman, Harmony UMC food pantry
• Francis Asbury Education Award, Jana Slay of the University of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast Campus Wesley Foundation.

Frances and Dee Thornton grew up across the street from Court Street United Methodist Church in Hattiesburg. Both joined the church on profession of faith before their 10th birthdays.

During the church’s rebuilding program in the early 1960s, Frances Thornton Smith began recording the history of Court Street Methodist Church. By interviewing former members, pastors and neighbors, Smith was able to reconstruct a detailed history of not only the big moments in the life of Court Street Methodist, but also of the personal emotions and reflections of the events surrounding the church and the changing cultural climate. She titled her book The Faith that Compelled Us.

In anticipation of Court Street’s centennial celebration in 2000, Smith dreamed of seeing her history book updated from 1963 to 2000. In 1997 she wrote, “In October of 1997, I learned that I had very little time to live and one of my main concerns was that the history be updated and that the book be published and given to the Church I loved as a ‘Happy One Hundredth Birthday’ gift.” \

Smith died on Dec. 23, 1997.

Her sister Dee Thornton Abbott (left) undertook the task of researching and interviewing to complete the history of Court Street Church from the 1960s to the present. In 2000, The Faith that Compelled Us: The First One Hundred Years, Court Street United Methodist Church 1900-2000 was published in paperback and hard cover editions.

Court Street has survived turbulent times as a church committed to remaining in and opening its doors to its downtown neighborhood. In The Faith that Compelled Us, the Thornton sisters address the racism and division of the civil rights era. Reading their accounts in 2009 gives a heightened appreciation for the struggles of a generation of Methodists. Today, Court Street is known as “the church between the tracks,” a church where people from both sides of the railroad tracks are welcome, a place of unusual hospitality and diversity.

Coleclough (right) learned about the horror of HIV/AIDS as a college student while on a mission trip to Zimbabwe. A friend she made on the trip died of the disease shortly after Coleclough returned to the United States. She felt called to do something, and started Footsteps in Hope, which sponsors walk/run events around the country raising money for HIV/AIDS research and education. The first Footsteps in Hope event held in Mississippi took place in 2008 and raised about $20,000 with about 500 participants. In 2009, about 600 participants raised some $13,000.

Dillard, 97, (*below) was cited for helping the poor in central Mississippi by holding a “flea market” where all items are free. She has held the event as part of USA Weekend magazine’s Make A Difference Day in her front yard for 12 years. Last fall she was honored by the magazine, earning a $10,000 donation to the American Red Cross of Central Mississippi.

“People are lined up every year,” she says, smiling. “But before we cut the ribbon and let folks start shopping, we say a prayer and give thanks to the Lord for all that has been provided.

“And you know what? The weather has been good every year.”

“That flea market is a lot of work,” says her daughter, Margaret Dillard McGlown of Lyon. “When we get through with Make A Difference Day, she’ll say, ‘I’m tired. I’m not doing it anymore.’ Then she gets cooled off, rested up and she’ll say, ‘Well, I guess I’ll do it one more year.’ That woman is a sweetie pie.”

Dillard’s generosity is hardly limited to one day in October. Her volunteer efforts go back decades.

She taught elementary school in Yazoo County for 27 years.

“We thought her house was our library,” says Owens, 52. “Kids would stop by to see Mrs. Dillard on the way home from school. She always had books for us to take home and read. And she always had Kool-Aid for us to drink.”

Owens laughs. “I thought for the longest time that Kool-Aid looked like water. What I didn’t realize was, so many children started stopping by her house, she had to add more water to make enough Kool-Aid to go around. She wouldn’t let any child go without.”

In the 1960s, Dillard was instrumental in the city building a park for children on Brickyard Hill, a low-income area where Dillard lived at the time. The park eventually was named in her honor.

A few years ago, she met with 19 children living in a low-income apartment complex in Yazoo City. Fourteen had never been to church. She bought all of them Bibles.

“She used to take children on field trips to Jackson and other places,” Owens says. “I’m talking about children who had never been out of Yazoo County, who had never eaten in a public restaurant. She exposed them to the world, and she did it with money out of her own pocket.”

Some information for this story was obtained from