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Pastors’ breakfast to promote dialogue about community’s needs

Mission Mississippi is not an organization — it is a ministry. 

Armed with the mission to encourage and demonstrate unity in the body of Christ across racial and denominational lines, leaders of Lincoln County Mission Mississippi are calling the area’s religious leaders to come together Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.

The event will take place at Mitchell’s Restaurant, located at 1203 Hampton Drive, and will feature Mission Mississippi President Neddie Winters. The Mission Mississippi Lincoln County chapter is co-led by Rev. Anne Matthews and Rev. A.C. Herring.

“Our hope is that this will begin a group of pastors who’ll meet to increase and create diversity,” Matthews, priest at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, said.

She said although the ministry is Christian, the group is diverse, and she hopes this is the first of many.

Matthews said the Lincoln County group came together after she met with a member of the community, Phyllis Spearman. She said Spearman was a teacher for many years at the high school who heard about Mission Mississippi and felt like Lincoln County could benefit from a chapter. Two years later and the Lincoln County group has been meeting regularly on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

Mission Mississippi focuses on creating dialogue about racism by establishing relationships between people of different races. These conversations about race, which can many times become tough, can be held peacefully and with great benefit.

“If we are Christians, and believe in Christ, we should look at His ministry,” Matthews said.  “He talked to people of a lot of different backgrounds. He is our model, and we are His children.”

She encourages people to put aside their prejudices and use Christ as their example.

“Every denomination makes jokes about other denominations,” Matthews said. “If we want to really change we need to reach across lines. We can prevent further violence and promote peace and solutions rather than get derailed focusing on our differences.”

Matthews, who has worked previously as a history teacher, career counselor and social worker, believes that a program such as Mission Mississippi could bring great change to small towns throughout the state.

“In small towns where social services are often limited, religious leaders can get together to really help issues,” Matthews said.

She said leaders are often able to address the root causes of conflict. She said it’s important to catch the day-to-day ills that people don’t seem to notice but could cause serious damage later on.

One of the things Matthews notices and wants to address in Brookhaven is that neither the city nor surrounding areas have a homeless shelter.

“We’re the safety net under the safety net,” she said.

Matthews said many people come to churches for help if they can’t receive help from other avenues such as relatives, friends or government agencies.

Because of this Matthews believes that Mission Mississippi could be a good thing for the county.  She shared her story of realizing the power of relationship building in combatting racism while attending a prayer luncheon where a lot of younger people shared their stories about encountering racism.

“That was fascinating to me to hear young people who have little [experiential] knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, but growing up in the Deep South to have such racial experiences,” Matthews said.

She said she learned a lot about the handling of racism by looking at how friendships are formed between people of different races.

“To me it’s one of the most natural passages young people are in. A lot of older people can learn a lot from how younger people form those relationships,” Matthews said.

Following that train of thought, Matthews said churches involved with the Lincoln County chapter of Mission Mississippi spend Sundays worshiping at each other’s churches. She encourages more churches to follow suit.

“It’s a rare church, especially in the Deep South, to have a real mix,” she said.

Therefore, in an effort to get more churches and religious leaders involved, she and co-leader Herring are hosting the pastors’ gathering Tuesday morning. The event is open to all pastors and ministers in Lincoln County and the surrounding areas. The gathering will have no charge.

The Lincoln County chapter’s next meeting is May 26 at 5:15 p.m. at Beulah Chapel at 1315 Brignall Road.