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Stories Written by Riley Manning
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Months after the tornado that tore through the church, St. Luke United Methodist Church is still picking up the pieces in more ways than one.
The April storm caused extensive damage to St. Luke, including the shattering of its sizable stained-glass window. When the storm subsided, choir director Stacey Fowler and other church members emerged to pocket bits of the window as keepsakes. Fowler took it a step further and contacted glass worker Wynelle Benson of the Brewer community who is now making the colorful shards into cross-shaped necklaces to benefit the church’s Disaster Relief Family Fund.
“At first I thought, ‘I wonder if we could sell 100,’” Fowler said with a laugh. “Lord, we had our first batch of jewelry within a week of the tornado, and a week later we were overloaded.”
The first round of pieces numbered around 200, but with such high demand, Fowler decided to keep a list, and begin selling after making as many as they could. When one of the original buyers uploaded a picture of their necklace onto social media, interest went through the roof, Fowler said.
Benson, who has been working with stained glass for about four years, said by her count, she’s used her kiln to fire between 1,200 and 1,500 stained-glass crosses. Benson also has added her own flair by dressing the pieces with freshwater pearls and chunks of metal-infused glass.
“They brought me the pieces right after the tornado and said, ‘Can you do something with it?’ And I said ‘Sure,’ and they said, ‘Can you take it now?’” Benson said. “There aren’t many more to make. Pretty much the only glass left are just crumbs.”
Fowler said proceeds from the glass so far tally around $22,000, far exceeding the window’s initial value of $4,000. The stained glass was installed at St. Luke in 1991.
“Now sometimes we almost think the Lord’s multiplying this glass,” Fowler said. “It’s a neat keepsake, for people who want a memento.”
Benson said she’s also worked with porcelain, but stained glass, especially from churches, is by far her favorite medium.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the colors,” she said. “I’m not as crazy about pieces not connected with anything. There’s something special about wearing a piece of the church next to your heart.”
Fowler said the jewelry will be available for purchase to the general public at St. Luke on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, contact (662) 213-7094 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – The Mississippi branch of the American Association of Retired Persons hit the road Wednesday to present donations to the cities of Tupelo and Louisville.
Each received a check for $5,000 for funding disaster relief efforts in the tornado-stricken towns.
“It was such an awful, awful thing to have happened,” said AARP state director for communications Ronda Gooden. “The donations came through our national office, and we hope to help out more in the future.”
AARP state president Bettye Taylor personally delivered the sum to Northeast Mississippi Red Cross’ chapter executive Patty Tucker.
“We want the citizens of Tupelo and Louisville to know we deeply care and are there for them,” Taylor said.
Tucker said the Red Cross was grateful for the support, and said donations like the AARP’s are what make the organization possible, since the Red Cross is not a government agency.
“The donation will be used to assess damages from the tornadoes,” Tucker said. “A lot of work has been done, but there are still plenty of families in need.”
Within hours of April’s tornado in Tupelo, the Red Cross had set up a shelter in the BancorpSouth Arena to house displaced people, their families, even their pets. For several weeks, the shelter continued to provide food, medical aid, damage assessment, and cots to sleep on.
For Fiscal Year 2014, the Red Cross of Northeast Mississippi responded to 252 single and multifamily fires. Overall, the Red Cross assisted 600 households, 217 of which belonged to local military members and their loved ones. The organization trained 990 in health and safety classes, and sports 132 local volunteers at the ready when called.
“These kinds of donations let us continue providing services to those in need right here in Northeast Mississippi,” Tucker said.
by Riley Manning
TUPELO – Gloster St. Church of Christ, the “mother church” for most Churches of Christ in the area, will mark this month the centennial of their formation, and of an idea.
The first congregation consisted of only three or four families, and met in the courthouse way back in 1914, courtesy of congregation member and two-term sheriff of Lee County, George Washington Long.
“You have to understand the historical setting in which our congregation was founded,” said Elder James Segars. “Each denomination has their own set of man-made rules that divides them. Essentially, the first congregation wanted to come out of that division and adhere solely to the New Testament for direction. They wanted to restore Christianity and the church as it was in the first century.”
Segars said that Gloster Street Church of Christ is and always has stood independently as a church. They don’t report to any district, conference, association or otherwise. For their first 11 years, the original congregation kept meeting in the town’s courthouse before building their first home in 1925.
In digging through the church’s history, Segars found the original members may have been few, but their influence was considerable. In addition to Washington, his brother, a dairy farmer named T.D. Long, and A.R. Phillips formed the nucleus of the congregation. T.D.’s daughter married into the McCollough family, who owned the land now crossed by McCullough Blvd.
“That was the beginning,” Segars said. “In the first few years, they attracted four or five other families, and kept growing as Tupelo grew. Strong leadership has always been present here, a true commitment and sympathy toward the original goal.”
Segars said the church’s education program is active and crucial. Children growing up in the Church of Christ know what they believe, he said.
In 1948, the congregation constructed their current home, just a few blocks down from their original location. According to the church’s preacher, Chad Ramsey, they have about 300 members and host between 250 and 260 each Sunday, about an 83 percent attendance rate. Mid-week Bible studies draw the same number. To make sure everyone is familiar with each other, Ramsey said the congregation is divided into four smaller groups, called “Care Groups,” that meet, eat, and carry out ministry projects together. The groups are rearranged every year.
“We’re very fortunate,” Ramsey said. “The camaraderie among our members is excellent. We’ve managed to stay away from cliques within the church. Anyone who has visited will tell you it doesn’t take long to get comfortable.”
In addition, the Gloster Street church helped begin Churches of Christ on east and west Main Street, in Verona and Sherman.
Setting the record straight
Ramsey said when it comes to the general population, the Church of Christ is often misunderstood.
“When you explain to people that we are just deeply invested in restoring what the New Testament says Christianity is supposed to be, it’s not a concept people object to,” he said. “It’s the practice that throws them off. People think we’re exclusive, but we just don’t want to be pigeon-holed by any kind of creed book.”
Segars agreed and said conceptions about Church of Christ members believing only their church will go to heaven are ludicrous. The church is merely trying to eliminate the divisive clutter of denomination, and minister with solely the New Testament as a foundation. For this reason, preachers aren’t called pastors or reverend, because, Segars said, those titles don’t come from the Bible.
“[Ramsey] is a minister, an evangelist,” Segars said. “A preacher of the word of God.”
It’s exactly this back-to-basics mindset that Ramsey says will carry the church into the future.
“The thing about our approach is that our standards aren’t changing,” he said. “Our call for unity on the New Testament may be refreshing to some. Our goal is not to be one church among many. We want to be the same church you read about in the New Testament. If we do what those men did, we can become what they were.”
The 100th anniversary celebration will take place at the church on Aug. 24. After the church’s regular 9 a.m. service, longtime church members will share their memories of the church and how it has affected them. At 1:30 p.m., the church will hold a service celebrating its heritage.
TUPELO – Film buffs and friends of Mantachie native Casey Spradling honored their friend at the Link Centre on Sunday. Spradling, 31, collapsed and died July 18, while in Jackson working on the film, “The Hollars.”
Casey Dillard and Glenn Payne met Spradling about five years ago through working with West of Shake Rag, Tupelo’s improv comedy troupe. They said his personality and drive enabled him to be successful at what he loved.
“We were filming a movie and using him as part of the crew, and it became apparent very quickly that he was someone you wanted to have around. He was such a creative person, a storyteller, whether he was producing something or just having a conversation with you,” Dillard said.
Looking around at Spradling’s photography that lined the walls, Payne agreed.
Payne said Spradling’s work ethic gained him a reputation that led to work for ESPN, the Food Network, American Idol, and more. Spradling also took part in over two dozen films.
“He was one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” he said. “He could mix and mingle with anyone.”
After reminiscing over food provided by local restaurants, a live auction was held to benefit the Casey Spradling Memorial Endowment Fund, to provide awards and grants for filmmakers, as well as the Casey Spradling Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will provide scholarships for filmmakers.
Following the auction, friends and relatives of Spradling shared their memories, while a slideshow of Spradling’s films and YouTube videos were displayed in the Link Centre’s Black Box theater throughout the event.
Contributions to the endowment and scholarship unds should be written to the CREATE Foundation Inc., at P.O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802, and should be specifically noted to go to either the scholarship or endowment fund.
TUPELO – Brian Reynolds wakes up every day with a goal in mind.
During the day, the 27-year-old Tupelo native works to instill a winning attitude in students with discipline issues at the Tupelo Public School District’s Fillmore Center.
After the 3 p.m. bell, he works as a strength and conditioning coach for aspiring athletes of all levels through his fitness company, Favor Elite Fitness.
“Some of the students have trouble in social settings and large crowds, others might come from a bad home or just get lost in the shuffle,” he said. “Basically I’m training them. Every kid knows how to dream, but very few of them know how to make their dreams work. Every day, I ask them what their goal is. Did you just come to school? Or are you trying to see more in life?”
Reynolds came to teaching after chasing his own professional football dreams. After graduating from Tupelo High School in 2005, Reynolds walked on at Itawamba Community College as a corner, and worked his way to earn the distinction of first team All American. From there, he transferred to Southeastern Louisiana University, and went on to play as a professional in the Arena Football League for the New Orleans VooDoo before returning to his hometown in 2013.
“I made a prayer in junior college that I didn’t completely understand at the time. I made a deal with God that once I made it in football, I’d come back and show other kids how to get out,” he said. “My ball career kind of ran its course, and I knew it was time to pay the other half of the deal.”
He came to strength and conditioning training through a college internship with JDPI Sports Performance located in Tuscaloosa, a facility aimed at developing explosive speed and power in athletes of all sports. Reynolds said having enough heart and dedication translates to success in all areas of life.
“I find myself telling my students and clients the same thing: Understand what you’re working for and set your own high standards. Otherwise, others will set them for you, and you probably won’t like it,” he said. “I love it, whether it’s a client trying to lose weight, or an athlete trying to make it to the next level, or keeping a student on the right path. Hunger and drive in anyone intrigues me, and gives me motivation to keep pushing, too.”
TUPELO – The baby giraffe born Wednesday at the Tupelo Buffalo Park has died.
The Buffalo Park’s Sheila Franklin said she and the park staff arrived at work Sunday morning to find parent giraffes Patches and Tall Boy huddled around the newborn under a cluster of trees.
“We checked on her last (Saturday) night before we left the Park and she appeared fine,” Franklin said. “She was standing next to Patches.”
Franklin said they could find no obvious signs of trauma or explanations as to the cause of death. The giraffe, a female, will be taken to Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine for an autopsy.
The Buffalo Park will continue with the naming process in order to erect a marker with the giraffe’s elected name on it. Names may be submitted through the Buffalo Park’s Facebook page or by email at email@example.com.
“Even though she was with us for a short time, we loved her ever since we discovered Patches was pregnant,” Franklin said.
By Riley Manning
The word of God is anything but simple, but bumper sticker-sized catchphrases about faith seem to be a dime a dozen, from “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin,” to “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
“Some are theologically accurate, but have been taken out of context and said so often they’ve become distorted, while others are plain incorrect,” said Tupelo’s West Jackson Street Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Keith Cochran.
Everything happens for a reason
The Rev. Jason McAnally, pastor of Origins in Tupelo, said though these sayings are often meant to be a comfort, they can sometimes hurt more than help.
“I feel like people resort to them in times of tragedy, when we don’t know what else to say,” he said. “But sometimes, the idea is just too comfortable and easy, and leads us to misrepresent God. When does Jesus ever give an easy answer? Usually he responds with a story or another question.”
McAnally pointed to the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”
“But what about the Holocaust? Or infant death?” McAnally asked.
At best, he said, the idea is reformed theology taken to an extreme that most Calvinists probably wouldn’t go. McAnally said maybe the popularity of the phrase is rooted in a desire to gain control and understanding of a tough or complex circumstance.
“Our culture isn’t a fan of mystery. If everything happens for a reason, at least that explains the ‘why’ behind a situation,” he said. “What people really mean is that God can use all things for good, but that’s a very different thing.”
God helps those who help themselves
The Rev. Stanford Adams, curate at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, said another disadvantage to faith-based platitudes like, “God helps those who help themselves,” is they associate unhappiness and misfortune with a lack of faith.
“These sayings have truth in them, but lend themselves to over-application,” Adams said. “A lot of our Saints’ Brew [food ministry] guests are where they are because of racism, a lack of support system, and other built-in barriers to mobility. Try telling them, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’”
That particular slogan, he said, isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. Of course, many people on whom Jesus performed miracles – blind men, lepers, demoniacs, etc. – were precisely those in a position where they were unable to help themselves.
“‘God will never give you more than you can handle’ is one I hear a lot,” Adams said. “The purpose of it is to get people out of suffering, but moving away from that grief before they’re ready can be harmful psychologically and spiritually. We don’t have to feel better to feel God’s presence.”
Love the sinner, hate the sin
Cochran took issue with the idea that God “loves the sinner, but hates the sin,” and said God hates both sinner and sin.
“It’s meant to be a tool to communicate God’s love in a little less judgmental way, but it ends up softening God’s stance against sin,” Cochran said.
He pointed to a sermon from Southern Baptist preacher the Rev. David Platt, who pinpoints verses like Psalms 11:5, which reads, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence,” and John 3:36, saying, “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
“Even still, he died for us, and told us to pray for those who persecute us. It’s hard to wrap your head around. How can a God of love hate something? But when you short-sell God’s judgment, you short-sell his love, too,” Cochran said.
Bless your heart
Dr. Ted Owenby, director for the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture, said these religious catchphrases mark an interesting intersection between the South’s relationship with language and its relationship with faith.
“The South’s largest religious group is evangelical Protestants, and the centerpiece to that movement is largely the issue of conversion,” he said. “So I suspect some of these sayings are rooted in the need for catchy, memorable phrases that are easily slipped into conversation.”
For evangelicals, he said, the maxims are kind of like road signs, reminders to live a Christian life because life can end at any moment.
“The downside is that a lot of meaning is lost between the shorthand line and the complicated ideas they stand in for,” he said.
Cochran said at the end of the day, anything that can fit on a bumper sticker is most likely doing God’s word an injustice.
“Whether you want to console someone or give them hope, the best way is to point to Jesus and to authentic scripture, and to listen,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times in a pastoral situation I haven’t known what to say. And that’s OK. I tell them I’m here, that I don’t have all the answers, that we can go talk to God together.”
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – The Tupelo Buffalo Park was graced with a newborn giraffe Wednesday just after 7 p.m.
As is typical of giraffes, the baby was born already six feet tall, and appears healthy and fit, according to the Buffalo Park’s Sheila Franklin.
“When they’re born they’re wrapped in a ball and as soon as it hits the ground it just springs open,” she said. “When we left on Wednesday, it was laying down, but yesterday and today it’s been running and playing around the park.”
The 115-pound newborn is the child of Buffalo Park giraffes Patches, the 16-foot-tall mother, and Tall Boy, who stands at 22 feet.
“Patches is a real protective mother,” said Buffalo Park owner Dan Franklin. “She knows me by now, but is cautious with strangers, especially with that baby.”
He said adult giraffes can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, and if they can’t outrun threats in the wild, they can kick their powerful legs in any direction. In their native Africa, it is not uncommon for giraffes to fight off and occasionally kill lions. In the wild, he said, giraffes face about a 67 percent mortality rate, but 40 percent of that threat is surviving birth.
“Giraffe mothers give birth standing up, so it’s a ways to fall, but the real danger is in the membrane that coats the animal,” Dan Franklin said. “If the mother doesn’t lick that membrane off around the baby’s nose first, it’ll suffocate before she gets to it. Birth is the hurdle, the tough thing. It makes you nervous.”
Sheila Franklin said the park would keep the giraffe for six months, allowing it to be nurtured by its mother, before selling it to another wildlife facility or zoo.
The last giraffe born at the park, also the offspring of Tall Boy and Patches, was in late 2012, and was sold to a zoo in Ohio.
The park is uncertain of the sex of the animal, but is taking suggestions for both male and female names. When the gender is discovered, the park will assign the most popular name for that gender.
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Tuesday afternoon, a gathering of a dozen or so meandered about on the balcony of Spring Street Cigars. Most puffed fresh stogies from downstairs, and chatted about work or television. ESPN played on mute above the plush leather couches inside. As people drifted in, some brought dinner in styrofoam boxes. The discussion was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., but folks seem to still be shrugging off the day amongst themselves.
At 6:20, Outpour organizer Chris Cornett looked at his watch.
“I guess we can get started,” he said.
Cornett herded them into the lounge, and gave his monthly introduction before delving into the night’s topic of death, mortality, and the afterlife. The only rules, he said, are for attendees not to attack anyone, and to be constructive about their disagreements.
“So I’ll start out with the most basic question: What happens when we die?” he said.
The circle was hushed in thought for a moment.
“I think it was the apostle Paul who said to be apart from the body is to be in the presence of God,” said Joe Adair. “If you believe the Bible, like I do, when we die, your soul goes to heaven.”
Emily Burleson agreed, but said it’s not so simple.
“My question is how long do we wait. Do we go straight there?” she said. “I have trouble with the soul-body connection. What happens to your soul in a vegetative state? Is there a difference between the soul and the spirit?”
Todd Knowlton chimed in.
“From what I’ve been reading, the soul is what interacts with God, the part of our being that knows something is out there,” he said.
Clint Gibson was a little more skeptical.
“I don’t trust these deathbed visions. Your brain is pumping out dopamine and all sorts of other chemicals to cope with the fact that you’re dying,” he said. “My uncle was haunted by memories of Vietnam, and when he died he said he just wanted rest. I guess that’s all I can hope for, too.”
As usual, Cornett said, the pre-determined questions he brings each month are merely jumping-off points. The talks usually yield many more questions than answers, but they are much more inquisitive than combative, and there is plenty of knee-slapping in the search for elusive solutions.
“All religions have asked these same questions for hundreds of years,” said David Pannell.
“But that doesn’t make them religious,” noted Alexa Werling. “As humans, we’re naturally curious.”
“What we call ‘pub theology’ has existed forever, the crazy guy in the bar saying, ‘the end is nigh,’” said Cornett, who initiated the Northeast Mississippi Outpour. “But what if we sat down and entertained this discussion in the most open setting possible?”
Cornett said he left the church at age 8, and didn’t return until he was 27, at the urging of his wife. He obliged, and ended up attending a small group within his church.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I wanted to hang out with these people and chill.”
But such a church-sponsored group setting couldn’t offer much past the small group, so he consulted the Internet, which led him to the concept of pub theology. In bigger cities, he said, similar groups are extremely common, but he wasn’t sure if it would fly in Tupelo, so he put it in his back pocket for some time. Eventually, he brought the idea up with a close friend, who implored him, “You have to do this.”
So Cornett held the first meeting at the end of March this year. There have been five since.
Outpour tries to meet bi-monthly at various watering holes around town. The group typically ranges from 10 to 20, and Cornett said they do their best to stick to a specific topic. Info and updates are mostly communicated through the group’s Facebook page.
“People who come say, ‘How can you talk about this stuff and laugh?’ At the same time, it’s fun when it gets a little heated, when the water’s not all flowing in the same direction,” he said.
Burleson said she enjoys the diversity of belief she finds with Outpour. They run the gamut of the faithful and the not. Some have degrees in theology, while others have damaged relationships with religion, while others have only questions.
“It’s really neat,” Burleson said. “You learn so much about people and different beliefs because they come to you from personal experience. We’ve had people who are super conservative mixed in with those who are out on the fringe. But everyone has a good time and everyone is welcome and respected.”
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Area industry leaders are making a point to utilize the Tupelo Public School District for securing their future workforce.
Ryan Miller, programs manager and assistant director for the Haley Barbour Center for Manufacturing Excellence (CME), Tony Tice, dean of career and technical instruction at Itawamba Community College, and David Copenhaver, retired vice president of Toyota’s Blue Springs plant, spoke to Tupelo teachers Thursday about exposing students to career paths in manufacturing at the district’s annual Industry Education Day.
“When you ask a teenager, ‘What is manufacturing?’ they think of an old factory in a black and white history textbook, or of a dying industry, but those come from influences, not experiences,” Miller said. “But if we open them up to the creativity, potential and teamwork in the industry, we can show them the real opportunities manufacturing can offer them.”
While it doesn’t grant a degree itself, CME provides college undergraduates the chance to earn 18 to 21 hours in manufacturing and engineering environments around the state, from Toyota in Blue Springs to Viking Range Stoves in Greenwood. CME seeks to recruit students right out of high school through “discovery days” in which kids engage in problem-solving and team-building activities, and meet instructors, who hand-select those to be invited to apply for the program.
Tice said a big advantage to Northeast Mississippi’s manufacturing industry is that many students desire to keep living in the area. The wide array of career options are enticing, as is the pay. ICC, he said, has become more intentional in putting students in real-world work environments.
“I used to say a career in technology education isn’t for everybody, but now that the money is there, it really can be for anybody,” Tice said. “A student straight out of high school, with a minimum ACT math score of only 19, can come out of five semesters … with a sellable skill and a career that makes in the $40,000 range.”
“The current workforce is getting better but it needs to get bigger. The question now for the industry, is how big can it get,” he said.