HEARERS OF THE WORD: Religious diversity shapes a week in Tupelo

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

Once in a while, amid the random assignments I follow each week, a pattern emerges. During a five day stretch I might interview a rodeo cowboy, a priest and city official. It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? But, sometimes, the narrative thread emerges in bright brilliance, like the Aurora Borealis.
I started last week by opening a conversation with Tupelo’s first formal gathering of Muslims.
I’d known for two months that they were here, and I’d been looking for a chance to get out and meet them. As this week’s feature indicates, they received me with open arms and even invited me to pray alongside them.
A few days later I was invited behind the scenes at the 183rd Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi.
Before the opening of the council, Bishop Duncan Gray III was holed up in a quiet room deep in the arena, going over his notes and trying to avoid being hassled by media types like me.
He was very gracious, and when I saw him leading his diocese later that night during the opening service I was thankful to have spent some quiet time with him. We talked about everything from football to the philosophy of Friedrich Hegel.
A week later I was once again in the arena for the 47th Annual Charity Ball. My friend Scott Morris had done most of the heavy lifting for the story and all I had to do was go and enjoy myself and get a little scenery for the article.
It was my first time attending the event and I was very impressed. I sat with a nice couple from Shannon named Tidwell. They were there to watch their grandson escort the gorgeous young “living ads.” Lucky boy, that one, and he clearly knew it, walking around smiling like the Cheshire Cat.
I got a nice tingle up my spine when the Charity Ball Chorus performed the “Masquerade” number from Phantom of the Opera.
The pretty maids, all smiling like toothpaste commercials, lined up along the center of the floor as the chorus thundered, “Masquerade! Paper faces on parade. Masquerade!” Believe me when I say it was well worth the price of admission.
After the music, Alan Bank was announced as the Outstanding Citizen of the Year, a man with whom I’d spoken at length on a previous story I was doing at the Jewish temple.
During the High Holy Days, Bank had taken plenty of time to explain his faith and to offer his help.
I don’t want to drift into maudlin here, but as the confetti showered down on us Friday night I was feeling pretty good about Tupelo and its religious diversity.
The week had taken me from the exotic, desert religion of Islam, to the high church dignity of the Episcopal Church, to a Jewish man receiving perhaps the city’s most prestigious public award, all right here in the heart of the Bible Belt.
If there’s a city in this state setting a finer example of religious diversity, I’d like to see it. Tupelo isn’t a bad place to work – not at all.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.