By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Fresh off the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s General Conference in June, the denomination’s Fourth Episcopal District has come together this week in Tupelo.
The district covers all of Mississippi and Louisiana. At the Tupelo conference, around 110 CME churches were represented. The Rev. Clementine Mays, pastor of Poplar Springs CME church in Shannon and organizer of the conference, estimated the 600 in attendance when the conference opened Thursday will increase to nearly 1,000 by the conclusion of the event today.
“The theme of the General Conference was spiritual investment, changed people changing the world,” Mays said. “So at this conference we’re bringing that down to a local level, as well as taking care of regular business like ordaining ministers as well.”
Bishop Thomas Brown, who presides over the conference, said much of the discussion took place over empowering youth and laypeople. Over the course of the conference, he is focusing his lecture series on the 13th chapter of Matthew, and the parable of the seed sower.
“We are who we are because of what others have invested in us. The church needs to focus on developing and empowering our laypeople, because everyone who is a believer is a priest,” Brown said. “We are a people who believe that if we keep sowing our testimony, a harvest will come.”
The conference also reported progress on their missionary enterprises in Haiti, Jamaica and East Africa, as well as church growth closer to home, within the district.
Brown said over the past four years, the denomination has seen about a 15 percent increase in CME membership in Northeast Mississippi, and around a 5 percent increase in the central part of the state.
In South Louisiana, Brown said membership has grown more slowly, at 1 percent, and declined in the rest of Louisiana by close to 4 percent.
“We can’t be discouraged at opposition,” Brown said. “Being a Christian isn’t always popular anymore, not to mention a general cynicism in the world. The only way to turn the tide is to win people be being enthusiastic and genuine.”