TUPELO – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called a new leader to oversee church affairs throughout much of Northeast Mississippi and part of northwest Alabama.
Gary Pettus, 59, became the new stake president Sunday morning at the church on Thomas Street in Tupelo. Pettus, a farmer and construction worker from Greenhill, Ala., has served three times on the stake’s high council, and succeeds outgoing president, Harry Brown, who was given his honorable release after serving nine years.
In Mormon polity a “stake” is an ecclesiastical and geographical term, designating a group of subsidiary congregations, called “wards,” within a particular area.
It’s similar to a diocese in the Roman Catholic Church, or a presbytery in the Presbyterian Church. There are 2,800 stakes worldwide, and five in Mississippi.
The Tupelo stake, with 3,000 members, includes the wards of Tupelo, Booneville, Columbus, New Albany, West Point and Corinth, as well as Florence, Haleyville, Hamilton and Russelville in Alabama.
Pettus has a full plate of new responsibilities, including overseeing the bishops who preside over each ward, as well as the auxiliaries to the priesthood, which includes instructors of religious education and other leaders.
His wife, Cheryl, is confident that he’s up to the challenge.
“He builds things for a living, and he likes to build up people, too,” she said.
Latter-day Saints first arrived in the Magnolia State in 1839 in Tishomingo County. Today, Mississippi has nearly 21,000 LDS in 44 congregations.
Pettus’ selection came about through a unique process, one that began Saturday morning in Tupelo and lasted into the evening.
Elder Bruce Carlson, from Washington, D.C., and Elder John Taggart, from North Carolina, facilitated.
Carlson and Taggart are members of the Second Quorum of Seventy, a group charged with carrying out administrative and teaching roles within the church.
The “Seventies,” as they’re called, serve under the direction of the Twelve Apostles, who in turn serve under the direction of the first presidency, which includes President Thomas S. Monson, also known as the Prophet, and his two counselors.
By noon Saturday, Carlson and Taggart had interviewed 15 men for the position, most of whom came recommended by other leaders within the church. “We’re basically screening for worthiness and availability,” said Carlson.
The LDS Church employs no full-time ministers. All clergy are volunteers and therefore usually work other jobs. Carlson, for example, is an Air Force veteran who works for the U.S. government in the defense and intelligence industry.
“Moral cleanliness, honesty, integrity and standing in the community, these are also important,” Carlson said.
Taggart, an attorney by trade, has facilitated the process several times before in other churches.
“We certainly believe in revelation,” he said, explaining that, during the series of interviews, God reveals the chosen man with “clarity and force.”
After Carlson and Taggart became convinced that God had chosen Pettus, they brought him, along with his two, new counselors, before the congregation Sunday morning to be “sustained,” or confirmed by popular consent. The Seventies then laid hands upon him, “setting him apart,” in LDS terminology.
Since he trusts in revelation, Pettus knew this was coming, and he’s sure God will guide his steps.
“It’s a very humbling experience to be considered,” he said. “To think that the lord would trust you enough to preside in this position.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal