By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
If the Rev. Jessie Gilmore could sum up everything she has learned, it would amount to this: “Never forget, it’s grace.”
Gilmore was ordained in 2002, becoming the first female ordained in a Northeast Mississippi Missionary Baptist Church, but left the denomination to form her own church, Emmanuel Gospel of Grace church in Verona.
Later this month, she will become the first female bishop to be ordained within the Independent Fellowship International Ministries, an umbrella organization designed to foster support for independent churches.
“I hope to be a trailblazer for others coming behind me,” she said. “The biggest gender conflict I experienced was being ordained as a pastor.”
Gilmore said the other bishops gauged the opinions of other pastors in the IFI before offering her the position, and keeping them in the loop was a great strategy for making the appointment smooth. But she wasn’t surprised at the lack of opposition.
“In preaching the gospel, you step out of the gender role,” she said. “The only title I really have is ‘servant.’”
The IFI seeks to provide the support of a mainstream denomination, but without restrictions on the hair-splitting points of theology or worship style.
Many of the IFI’s churches, she said, are churches that split off from a larger congregation, and intentionally exist outside of a denomination. Cautious of being assimilated back into a larger body, some of the churches were hesitant to join the IFI.
“Start-up churches, or storefront churches, don’t always have the resources a mainstream denomination does. So they don’t feel independent in that sense, and they don’t want to lose their identity,” she said.
The IFI builds a foundation of common ground for these independents to meet on, namely, Gilmore said, the gospel of Jesus.
“The IFI lets them have a place they can belong,” she said. “Lots of split churches forgo fellowship, but they are really missing out on the strength in fellowship. The IFI gives them that while letting them remain independent.”
For her, the opportunity to serve as bishop is akin to laying a foundation as well. She hopes future female ministers and independent churches will be inspired by the groundwork she has laid.
“To them I would say, don’t forget the one who called you, and don’t forget the source of your strength,” she said.