By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
Sunday morning arrived like a bright reprieve, melting frozen puddles and revealing, over the small, Mooreville church, a high, blue window that seemed to open onto heaven itself.
Inside the sanctuary of Andrews’ Chapel United Methodist Church, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward moved through the gathering congregation with a warm smile, holding on to handshakes a beat longer than usual and touching people on the shoulder.
The solemn, familiar stains of “How Great Thou Art” filled the room. The teal carpet and modest oak pews gave the space a close, glowing feel that showed in the flushed cheeks of the worshipers.
On either side of the pulpit, the musicians played with the mirthful gratitude of artists learning the nuances of new instruments.
Duke Hussey fingered confident chords on the Hammond organ, sending a deep, pleasing vibration through the pews. Across the way, Shirley Cooper accompanied him on the handsome, black lacquer grand piano.
Today the church would “dedicate” these new instruments – not “consecrate” them. The difference was that they’d been paid for in full.
“Methodists are singing people,” the bishop said cheerfully, standing in front of a stained glass window depicting Christ knocking on a closed door. He held his staff in his hand, and behind him, in red, yellow and blue light, a pastoral backdrop seemed to hold the promise that the door might just open.
Hussey and Cooper drifted into a spirited rendition of “I’ll Fly Away,” the notes following quickly upon one another with a jaunty, almost ragtime, playfulness.
Shy children gathered hand in hand across the front of the church to sing “Happy Birthday.” Then, at Brother Sammy Washburn’s request, those in the pews recited a litany of sick members who needed prayer.
Mittie Hussey watched the proceedings with uninhibited joy. In her 97 years she couldn’t remember a bishop ever visiting her little church. Both Hussey’s children, as well as her six grandchildren – including the organist – and five of her great grandchildren had been baptized at St. Andrews.
Today, for this most special occasion, Hussey was dressed in her pink blazer, and her smart jewelry and fine coiffure of white hair gave testament to how honored she felt by the bishop’s visit.
“There are more than 1,100 churches in the Mississippi Conference,” said Ward, adding that the loving reception she’d gotten was a testament to the “connectional” character of the church.
Ward preached from the call of Jeremiah, admonishing the little church never to say “I’m only” when considering their importance in God’s plan.
“We celebrate small congregations, the small places to which we belong,” she said.
“The love here is palpable, and it’s the holy moments we experience, in places like this, that move our lives forward.”
Ward paused, and looked around the sanctuary, then out the stained glass window into the radiant morning.
“Everything here – the grounds, the building, your hospitality – says ‘we love our church,’” she said.
Joanne Reed presented the bishop with two gifts of the church’s gratitude, and insisted, in that fine, motherly fashion of generations of Southern women, that everyone fix a plate and eat lunch after church.
When the service was over, pianist Shirley Cooper, who taught her fellow musician, Hussey, as a child, said the whole service had given her “holy goose bumps,” then made her way toward the serving line.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org