By Riley Manning/Daily Journal
TUPELO – The leader of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Churches of Mississippi believes health and growth are the biggest challenges facing his church.
“Mainstream churches decline because they get comfortable,” Bishop Thomas L. Brown Sr. said in an interview during CME’s annual conference, held this week in Tupelo. “Seventy-five percent of churches are where people used to be.”
The conference usually hosts only the north half of Mississippi’s CME churches, but this year the entire state was brought together in order to help its members and leaders be conscious of their church body as a whole, Brown said.
Brown presides over the Fourth Episcopal District, which is comprised of Mississippi and Louisiana and has a total of 320 churches, 200 of them in Mississippi. Conference attendees discussed business matters of the church such as delegate elections and budgeting. The conference also featured a youth component in which young members studied lessons and toured Tupelo.
The CME began in 1870 in Jackson, Tenn., after the Methodist Episcopal Church split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery. The black congregations affirmed a desire to have their own church, complete with the right to appoint their own bishops and ministers without the approval of a white church body, and became the only black Methodist church birthed in the South.
Senior Bishop Thomas Hoyt, a national leader in the denomination, explained that the CME differs from other black Methodist churches in that it was formed with the blessing of the official Methodist Episcopal church, rather than out of protest.
Hoyt said the CMS endorses a “holistic understanding” of ministry, evangelism contingent upon actively helping and caring for others. This principle is central to Hoyt’s message for the conference which was to “help them see that repentance is crucial when dealing with humanity and relationships.”
The CME sports a seminary school in Atlanta, and a leadership school at Rust College in Holly Springs. Internationally, CME has implanted branches on the African Coast, including Haiti and Jamaica.
Brown, an Ole Miss alumnus originally from Oakland, Miss., said the conference is held in Tupelo because of accommodations and hospitality. Lee County has six CME churches.
The four-day conference at the BancorpSouth Arena concluded with a worship service Wednesday.