By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
Tupelo’s BancorpSouth Arena will be filled to the brim again this weekend as representatives from Christian Methodist Episcopal churches from all over Mississippi meet for their annual conference from July 7 through 12.
The Fourth Episcopal District of the CME church is comprised of Mississippi and Louisiana, and in the past, each half of both states have held their own conferences.
Last year, the North and South halves of the state were brought together under one roof with tremendous success.
“It worked out extremely well last year,” said Elder Leo Wright, presiding elder for the district. “There weren’t barriers between the two halves, but having everyone in one place was a great opportunity to learn from one another.”
This year will be the first year the district’s leadership school is incorporated into the program.
“Many of our pastors are bi-vocational, so getting time off to attend both the annual conference and the leadership school can be tough. But by holding them at the same time, they can kill two birds with one stone,” Wright said.
The leadership school will develop pastors’ skills on developing the church and carrying out evangelism in their local communities. However, the Rev. Clementine Mays, pastor of Poplar Springs CME Church in Shannon, said the school will be most beneficial for the youth in attendance.
“The leadership school works with kids age 5 and up and consists of several classes that are pretty rigorous,” she said. “They will work with the district’s missionary institute to learn Bible and church history, as well as develop character.”
Mays said the youth will attend worship twice each day, but will receive an afternoon break to participate in various activities like basketball and bowling. But the real value, Wright said, was that youth will get to know the ins and outs of the district.
“Along with taking their regular classes, they will get great exposure to what goes on at the annual conference,” Wright said. “They will get to see the structure and the more business end of things.”
Mays said the CME denomination is very intentional about turning youth into participating leaders.
“When there are no babies in the church, that’s how you know a church is in a decline. Because your babies become your youth, who become young members, who become elders. When a congregation is missing a group, that lack is going to travel all the way up the chain,” she said.
Mays said the conference itself will focus on adapting the church to the 2lst century.
“We are always in the process of spreading the church,” she said. “Church plants are so important because for many people these days, a traditional church carries a negative stigma of being too traditionalized in their thinking.”
This year, Mays said the conference would elect three new district bishops to replace bishops who are retiring or have died. CME bishops may serve until age 74, and are only elected every four years.
“We don’t usually have this many bishop spots open, and after the conference, I expect vacancies to be few and far between because the bishops who aren’t retiring are very young,” she said.
Pastoral assignments will also be revealed. Wright said for his 53-church area, he is making 10 transfers. In addition, Wright said general assessments of church body, from stewardship to growth to overall spirituality, will be presented.
“Naturally, finances have been more of a challenge in this economy, but we have met that challenge well,” he said. “We’re seeing slight growth in churches overall, and this region is definitely holding its own.”