Religion, Faith, Spirituality and Wellness Reporting


These are a few of the stories I have written over the years on these topics.


A lesson in civil rights: Rabbi's role in the 1960s examined

He was both admired and resented during Mississippi's volatile civil rights era. Rabbi Perry Nussbaum became an outspoken voice against racism and segregation in Jackson during his 19 years as rabbi of Beth Israel Congregation, and his life was the topic of the first of 13 Jewish literacy classes that began Tuesday at the synagogue. Rabbi Allen Krause, a former assistant professor in the comparative religions department at California State University, Fullerton, led the event.

Beth Israel turning 150: An integral part of Jackson

Beatrice Lehman Gotthelf, 91, is a third-generation member of Beth Israel Congregation who fondly remembers good times on the grounds, like her wedding day, Hanukkah dinners, outdoor picnics and the annual Sisterhood bazaar. She also recalls dark moments, like the year 1967 when the congregation moved into its present home on Old Canton Road and local Ku Klux Klan members bombed the synagogue.

Born of Conviction statement an 'atomic bomb': Methodist ministers fought racism in the 1960s

As a student at Millsaps in the 1970s, Joseph T. Reiff found his heroes in a group of ministers who forged "a crack in the armor of the closed society" that existed in Mississippi in the 1960s. In the fall of 1962, James Meredith had become the first black student at the University of Mississippi. The event sparked riots on campus that left two dead, 48 soldiers injured and 28 U.S. marshals wounded by gunfire.

Mississippi pastors influenced by legacy of 'Born of Conviction' signers

It's not like the 1960s, but Mississippi pastors today are sometimes forced to take stands on controversial topics - issues such as immigrant rights, health-care reform and the death penalty. The Rev. Chris Cumbest, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Ocean Springs, was influenced by the legacy left by the Born of Conviction ministers.
"I was born in 1962, so I wasn't here long before it happened," he said. "A part of my life has certainly been shaped by the fact that my parents were aware of what was going on."

'For years, we didn't tell': Family comes to terms with daughter's sexuality

She came out during her senior year of high school. Paige Williams acknowledged she was gay, and her devoutly religious parents were devastated. It took more than three years for their fractured relationship to begin to heal, and now they all deal with the issue publicly, albeit different avenues. 

Freedom Riders inspire playwright

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders - civil rights activists who traveled to the South in 1961 risking their lives to desegregate interstate bus travel. Many were arrested in Mississippi and jailed at the state penitentiary. One was Mimi Real, a sophomore at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, who inspired Virginia native Mike Wiley, an actor and playwright, to pen The Parchman Hour.

Showing humanity towards others

Michelle Shrader decided to transition from speech therapist to pastor when she became aware of the class and racial divides in her Florida town. "I was really involved in leadership at an affluent, all-white church," Shrader said, "and I was working in the school just across the tracks that had no resources and was primarily attended by children from low-income African-American families.

Wings of song: Mississippi choir tours Ghana

Overcome with emotion, tears streamed down her face as she stood in front of Elmina Castle. Built by the Portuguese in 1482, the Ghana landmark once held thousands of Africans who were imprisoned in its dungeon and later sold as slaves. And there she was, centuries later, standing in the courtyard where men and women had been exchanged as merchandise, belting out black spirituals that doubled as freedom codes - songs written years later by American slaves using the Underground Railroad to seek independence in free states.

Beliefs run Deep: Miss. tops several categories in national survey on religion

The location of the Bible Belt's "buckle" is a subject of debate, but a new report suggests it may be Mississippi. After analyzing data collected from 35,000 American adults who participated in the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's most recent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, researchers ranked Mississippi first in four categories that measure religious commitment.


Service to honor Medgar Evers legacy

The virulent visitors did not dissuade her. When they dropped by to see her father, Judy Barnes clung to her faith. "As far back as I can remember, I questioned a lot of the racial slurs and remarks that I heard," she said, "and I believed, as part of my Christian faith, that everyone truly is my brother and sister."


Islam at a Crossroads in America

Islam is at a crossroads in America. That is the theme of a conference this weekend at Jackson's International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The event marks the museum's eighth anniversary. Okolo Rashid, co-founder and IMMC executive director, said world-renowned scholars are speaking at the Jackson Convention Complex. The conference, which began Friday and continues through Sunday, is designed to open an international dialogue about American/Muslim relationships. About 500 are expected to attend, Rashid said.

Born (again) to be wild: Motorcycle ministries

Terry Woody Osborn spent many years as a church leader before drifting away. It took a motorcycle gang to bring him back. The Clinton dentist said he rebuilt his relationship with God while constructing a custom-built bike dubbed "Armageddon." Representing the dual nature of man - light and dark - the bike is covered with scripture and dark imagery. For the past three years, Osborn has ridden his bike with Ridgeland's LifeBridge Church biker ministry, one of hundreds now in the U.S. They're not exactly hell on wheels, but the members think rules are meant to be broken.

Anniversary of Ole Miss riot

As an eighth-grader at University High School in Oxford in 1962, Duncan Gray III was well aware of what was happening with the civil rights movement. On the evening of the riot at the University of Mississippi protesting James Meredith's admission, Gray's father, an Episcopal priest, went on campus to calm the swelling crowd and try to get students to go back to their dorms.

Ride a horse; save cowboy

Dean Cook spent two years leading a Kentucky church before he rode back into town to create a church for horse enthusiasts. Last month, the Baptist preacher took the reins of His Brand: Cowboy Church in the Dirt, a Brandon nondenominational ministry. It's one of at least 200 U.S. cowboy churches with the objective: Ride a horse; save a cowboy.


Faith, family and ducks: Mississippians identify with Duck Dynasty's moral message

Daniel Jones, a student minister at Corinth's Tate Baptist Church, recently went to a worship service wearing a long, fake beard while dressed as Uncle Si Robertson from the popular A&E reality television series "Duck Dynasty." "I did have to take it off when I preached because it was a distraction," said Jones, whose church recently held a "Duck Dynasty"-themed party for its youth group.

Stereotyping on group's agenda for open discussion, elimination

All Asians are smart and good at math. All Irish are alcoholics, and all African-Americans are on welfare. Italians are connected with the mob. Most Hispanics are illegal immigrants. All Muslims are terrorists. And Southerners are racists. Stereotypes - it's a topic Mississippians are discussing this week during an ongoing Sunday school class at Jackson's Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church and a University of Southern Mississippi program.

God and the green movement

In 1970, Ann L. Whitaker attended the first Earth Day celebration in Washington, and was one of 20 million nationwide observing it. "It was part of my formation," the Clinton resident said. "I was a senior in high school. There were many changes taking place, and there was this notion of getting back to the garden. People were saying we have this planet, and we need to do something to save it or take care of it."

Faith and finances: Churches preach economic responsibility

Marsha Wilson, 44, recently quit her job as a bookkeeper to stay home and help her two teenage sons improve their declining grades. The west Jackson family is now completely dependent on the income of her husband, Albert, a sheetrock finisher. Clinging to the belief that God will help her family through tough economic times, Wilson knows there are some things she must do to help herself.


Festival of faiths: Groups building on MLK's legacy

The legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. lives on, but some say his vision of peace and equality has not been fully realized. That's why a group of Jackson residents representing an array of religious beliefs has united to promote the ideals that King envisioned. "His vision of the world has not yet been achieved, and we have an obligation to work together to achieve that," said Michael Steiner, a member of Jackson's Beth Israel Congregation.


Fight club: Sermon series teaches couples how to stabalize a rocky marriage

The boxing referee enticed the crowd and introduced the robed fighters. In one cover of the ring was Steve Theim, a former Army sergeant. In the other corner, Rachel Theim, a fitness instructor. And standing between the married couple was Pastor Phillip Thurman, who used the fictional match to creatively introduce a new sermon series called "Ultimate Fight Club." It's designed to encourage couples to fight for their marriage instead of with each other.

Resolution: Invest in Jackson: Churches take an active role in civic affairs

Homeless and seeking support, Ruth McNeal was once a resident of Matt's House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Jackson. Facility leaders helped her find a place of her own, and today, McNeal frequely returns to voluntairly make beds and clean Matt's House. "It's a blessing for the women who don't have nowhere to go, and I thank God for it," she said in a Meadowbrook Church of Christ video blog that chronicles the work church members have done at Matt's House and another shelter.

Grave Secrets: Images unearth stories of times past

Skulls, skeletons and coffins sound like spooky Halloween imagery, but to inhabitants of 17th and 18th century America, they were symbols of mortality. Frequently carved on tombstones, they represented the imminence of death and the uncertain nature of life. Cemeteries are filled with iconographic stones and statues that paint a historic picture of America's spiritual and religious evolution.

Bringing India to Mississippi : $4 Hindu temple opens in Rankin

Mississippi's Hindu population has increased since Dr. Sampat Shivangi immigrated to the state in 1978, just as the population nationally has done. The Hindu population of America has grown from 1,700 in 1900 to 2.29 million in 2008. When Shivangi moved to Mississippi, only a handful of Indian families were living in the state. Today, "I would (estimate that there are) close to 1,000," said Shivangi, chairman of the Hindu Temple Society of Mississippi's Public Relations Committee.

Holy Ghost Milestone: 100 years later, Catholic church still on a mission

Father Aloysius Heick, a 41-year-old German missionary, put his life on the line in 1905 when he attempted to establish a mission school in the Delta town of Merigold for poor African Americans. To avoid being lynched, he was placed in a piano box coffin and rolled out of town by a horsedrawn wagon. The experience did not detour Heick's mission. Vicksburg, a city with a larger Catholic population, was more welcoming, and in 1906, he founded St. Mary's Catholic Church, the Divine Word Missionaries' first foundation in the South.

If God is so good, why is this happening?

ABaptist preacher will ask a question he says causes some people to lose faith. Then he will seek to answer it. Why do good things happen to bad people? The Rev. Jay Richardson, pastor of Ridgeland's Highland Colony Baptist Church, will address that question during a five-part sermon series that begins Sunday called: "If God is so Good: Questions about God, Evil and Suffering." "The inconvenient truth is not that God has introduced evil and suffering into our perfect world," he said. "It's that we have introduced evil and suffering into his perfect world."

Answering God's call: Web apps target the faithful

With more than 100,000 phone applications to choose from, it makes sense that some created for Apple products would target the religious community. New Albany native John Hugh Tate, a Harvard Divinity School graduate who helped found Jackson's Bellwether United Methodist Church congregation in 2007, has owned an iPhone about a year and a half. About three months ago, he downloaded Holy Bible, an iPhone app that enables users to read the Bible when they're on the go.

Jackson Jewish Film Festival: Terrorism explored in several contemporary productions

The Jackson Jewish Film Festival returns to the area for the ninth time, bringing four films that will be shown Jan. 22-25 at the Millsaps College Recital Hall and the Historic Fairview Inn. The four contemporary Israeli and Jewish films include stories about the collision of different worlds, the life of newspaperman and Las Vegas icon Hank Greenspun, a nontraditional love story, and a man caught in a life-and-death situation.

Give it up: Lent a chance for Christians to 'spring clean the spiritual house'

It was one of the hardest things she's ever had to do, but Allie Kate Williams, 9, made the sacrificee. Williams is saying no to sweets for 40 days. Like many Christians, it's her way of observing Lent. "I gave up candy, cookies, cake and highly sugared things," said the St. Andrew's Episcopal School student. "I did it because this is one of the first years I really understood why you give up things. You are supposed to pray every time you want the thing you are giving up. At school, if they have cookies or dessert, I get fruit or a granola bar."

The Little Preacher

At age 5, he stood in the pulpit at Birmingham's Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church wearing a pinstriped vest and tie while a woman sitting beside him wiped her eyes and waved her hands as he preached his first sermon called “Double For Your Trouble. It was about Job, a man who lost everything, continued to have faith in God despite his trials and was eventually given more than he lost by God as a reward for his devotion.


Keeping the Faith: Churches, preserved or lost to time, remain a testament to integrity

The modified Gothic building dedicated June 3, 1900, features stained glass windows copied from paintings by Raphael and Murillo; Carrara marble altars from the same quarry used by Michelangelo; and a Christ the Good Shepherd Venetian glass mosaic with the inscription: "There shall be one flock and one shepherd." Church leaders were determined to keep the steeple after Hurricane Katrina damaged it.

Episcopal meeting to draw thousands

The gathering has been called the Episcopal equivalent of the Neshoba County Fair. More than 4,000 people are expected to attend the 184th annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi meeting this weekend at the Jackson Convention Complex. Some have deemed it the largest gathering of Mississippi Episcopalians in recent history.
"It will be a large gathering for a particularly small denomination," said the Right Rev. Duncan M. Gray III, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi. The event theme is "The Spirit of Mission."

It's your move: A Pentecostal challenge

To win a game of chess or checkers, one must think strategically. It requires concentration, skill and the ability to act at the right moment. Leaders of the Mississippi District of the United Pentecostal Church International are challenging Mississippians to get in the game Tuesday through Friday by attending the 61st annual Camp Meeting on the church district grounds at 10332 Mississippi 18 in Raymond. The theme is "It's Your Move," and nightly services begin at 6:30.

Britney backup singer goes gospel

In her song "Oops I Did it Again," Britney Spears tells the fictional boy whose attention she has deceptively stolen that although he thinks she's an angel sent from above, she's not that innocent. But Kelly Clinger, 28, was too innocent to continue a career in pop music after spending a year as one of Spears’ backup singers during the Kentwood, Louisiana, native’s first national “Baby One More Time” tour in 1999.

Rabbi meets the road: Klaven to serve several congregations across the South

Hhe was kicked out of Hebrew school for being a joker. A teacher lacking a sense of humor wasn't willing to tolerate young Marshal Klaven's antics. But little did she know, the boy would become a rabbi. "I had a serious teacher who didn't tolerate any kind of ruckus in the classroom, and I was always trying to push the envelope a bit," Klaven laughed. "Sometimes it pushed back. Maybe that's still a part of me. I feel like if we don't push a little bit and prod to see what's out there, we will never know how far we can go."


'A recurring happiness': Muslims hold fast to beliefs, mark Eid holiday

For Christians, Thanksgiving and Christmas are traditional times for charitable giving. For more than a billion Muslims, that time is Ramadan. The annual month of observance that involves a 30-day fast from sunrise to sunset concludes this weekend with the Eid holiday.Okolo Rashid, co-founder and executive director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures, said Ramadan offers an annual opportunity to start afresh.


Selah sees faith tested

Headed to her first piano lesson, 4-year-old Amy Perry insisted she wanted to sing instead. My mother told the piano teacher that she didn't know if I was going to participate, but the teacher also taught voice lessons," Perry said. "I went in with her, and about five minutes later, she came out and told my mom: 'She's not a piano player. She's a singer.'" Today, the California native is one of three members of the nationally known singing group Selah that includes Todd Smith and Alan Hall. The group has sold 2 million albums, won the Dove Award for Inspirational Album of the Year four times and has repeatedly topped Christian music charts.

Along the Silk Road: Exhibit sheds light on central Asia mission work

Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton is inviting people to walk Central Asia's Silk Road. Beginning Sunday, the church will host the International Mission Board's "Along the Silk Road" interactive exhibit, designed to create awareness about the cultures of Central Asia and mission work conducted there.


First Baptist's Static Bible study group seeks to keep 20-somethings in the fold

Static. It's the grainy interference that blocks reception, preventing the transmission of communication. Those crackling and hissing technological disruptions can keep us from hearing or seeing a message. And it may be one of the reasons the emerging generation is leaving the church. Youth leaders at First Baptist Church of Jackson are trying to change that with a ministry called Static that targets the city's 20-something population.

Mission in Life Clear: Love of others leads to love of each other

Before they met, Nathan and Mary Margaret Bogue were inspired by friends to become missionaries. Nathan ventured to China, Vietnam, India and Iraq, while Mary Margaret visited West Africa and Southern Sudan. "The commonality of doing missions is one of the main reasons we dated and later got married," said Nathan. "One of our goals was to go on mission trips together."


Texting the word: Podcasts, blogs, networking sites help churches extend their reach

To the tune of Joan Osbourne's One of Us: "If God had a Facebook page, what would it look like? And would you be afraid if seeing meant that you would have to request God's Facebook friendship, then wait on his approval in your status updates? What if God was one of us? Had a blog like one of us? Just a stranger on Facebook trying to socially network?"

Married to tradition: Henna Night offers glimpse into Turkish culture

The conservatively dressed women rushed to get in line when asked if they wanted a free tattoo. One by one, they sat and watched an artist adorn their hands and arms with intricate designs that some call fooffys, humps, wibbleleafs, ziggyzoggys, fishbones, mummies and sprounts. While Gloria Borders asked for a small flower that wouldn't be distracting during Sunday morning choir service at Fannin United Methodist Church, Elise Morse-Gagne, a Tougaloo English professor, let them cover the back of her hand with a web of lines. And she didn't object when daughter Katie, 13, did the same.

Behold Books: Mississippi religious educators tackle a variety of subjects

They spend most of their week enlightening college students about religion and spirituality. And when they're not educating eager young minds, they're writing about the topics they teach. Seven Mississippi educators - six religion and philosophy professors and a college president - have recently penned books. From belief systems, abortion and money management to Islam, Hinduism and atheism, a host of topics are covered.


Provine perseveres: 150 years of history

In the 1950s, Tim Tarvin was a Clinton fixture. The 100-year-old was known as a joyful individual with an infectious personality and a sharp memory. A century had passed since Tarvin's birth, but he was still clear and lucid when he agreed to pose as a model for newly hired art insturctor Samuel Gore's Mississippi College class. While seated, he shared stories from his youth, recalling the first time he heard the bell ring at Provine Chapel, a building that will be honored this year and next when Mississippi College leaders commemorate the 150th anniversary of its construction that began in 1859.

American Idols: Who do we worship?

They were American idols whose mortality shocked their fans. Thirty-one million U.S. viewers watched Michael Jackson's televised funeral days after media outlets reported his death had led to suicide attempts among some fans. The murder-suicide of football hero and Mount Olive native Steve McNair, a married man with four children, by his girlfriend prompted the public to question the contrasting characteristics of a hometown hero. Burying celebrities elevated to iconic superstar status has become a sad theme lately, influencing a number of religious and spirituality articles about idolatry.


Beer and the Bible: Would religious views change if ancient beer culture was better understood?

Dr. James Bowley, professor of the Department of Religious Studies at Millsaps College, told students that beer was very much a part of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent during The Real Greek Week II. The recent event, sponsored by the Department of Classical Studies, was called "Have a Beer, Bible Reader," and the description of the seminar asked, "Did Jesus drink beer, or was he strictly a wine man?"


Christian artist Brandon Heath talks about album 'Blue Mountain'

When many Mississippians hear "Blue Mountain," they think of the 135-year-old, private Christian college supported by the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the Appalachia region of Northeast Mississippi. It's a place Christian singer Brandon Heath never knew existed when he created a fictional location called Blue Mountain set in Appalachia that is the theme of his new album by the same name.


What is Heaven Like?

Amy Lemmons, 38, was diagnosed with an agressive form of leukemia four years ago and given little hope that she'd recover. She had a bone marrow transplant last year and spent almost 100 days in the hospital. "There were times when I was terrified, when I didn't know if I would live or die," she said. "It was during those dark times that I really reached out to God." Lemmons also began to ponder what heaven was like, a vision that brought her courage and comfort.

Jackson: A city of believers: Ranks 5th for most Bible-minded out of 96 regions across the nation

Jackson residents read the Bible and believe in its accuracy more than most people in the U.S., according to a new report relased by the American Bible Society. Based on random telephone and online interviews with 42,855 adults conducted during a seven-year period ending in 2012, Jackson ranked fifth as one of America's "Most Bible-Minded Cities." Cities that embrace the Bible most also include Knoxville, Chattanooga, Shreveport, Birmingham, Springfield, Missouri, Charlotte, North Carolina, Roanoke/Lynchburg, Virginia, Huntsville, Alabama, and Charleston, West Virginia.

'Marriage is a Love Worth Fighting For' coming to Brandon: Former teen star Kirk Cameron to speak at church

If you're marriage is experiencing "Growing Pains," a former teen hearthrob turned Christian actor and evangelist has a message: Marriage is a "Love Worth Fighting For." Kirk Cameron, who first gained fame as a 1980s sitcom star, will appear Aug. 18 at Crossgates Baptist Church in Brandon. "The Love Worth Fighting For marriage event is a very special event that came out of the movie 'Fireproof,'' Cameron said by phone. "That was a movie that so many people saw and loved that we decided to turn it into a live event and bring it to the community."

One More Day to Live: If tomorrow marked the end of the world, how would you spend your last day on Earth?

If Myrtle resident Belida Davis had only one more day to live, she would wake up and cook the best meal she had ever prepared, invite loved ones to her home, laugh with them and pray. They'd travel to her father's house, the place she loves best, and reminisce about their lives together and future in heaven. "I would stay in touch with the world by cell phone, reaching out to my family and friends that were not with me," she said. "I would end the day with hugs, a prayer and a huge piece of chocolate."

Joel Osteen to visit Jackson: Pastor of America's largest church to bring 'Night of Hope'

Ten years ago, when Laine Lawson Craft was going through a dark period with a failing marriage, financial problems and sick children, she turned on the television and found inspiration. "I came across this little man on TV," she said. "He was preaching about a God that can do the impossible. Our problems were so huge, but Joel made us have seeds of belief that our God was bigger and greater than anything we faced. I am convinced that through Joel, God was able to enlarge our expectations of who God was and is, and we experienced marriage restoration, financial breakthrough, and children healed."

Comedy show promotes religious diversity

Here's a little joke: A rabbi, a Muslim and a Baptist minister walk into Millsaps College ... While some would say religion is not a laughing matter, three comedians from varying religious backgrounds will perform at Millsaps College tonight as part of the "Laugh in Peace Comedy Tour," designed to bring cross-cultural comedy to the area.

Black, gay and proud: Minister to speak at Jackson Black Pride Prayer Breakfast

He grew up singing in the choir, and by age 8, people were piling into a Los Angeles church to hear him perform. Terry Angel Mason knew he had a special gift at an early age, but there was something else that set him apart. By age 8, he also knew he was gay. The minister, author and former choir leader will speak Nov. 22 at the Jackson Black Pride Prayer Breakfast. The event set for 10 a.m. at the Hilton Jackson is being organized by My Brother's Keeper, a nonprofit that works to enhance the health and well-being of minorities.

Mississippi pastors influenced by legacy of 'Born of Conviction' signers

It's not like the 1960s, but Mississippi pastors today are sometimes forced to take stands on controversial topics - issues such as immigrant rights, health-care reform and the death penalty. The Rev. Chris Cumbest, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Ocean Springs, was influenced by the legacy left by the Born of Conviction ministers.

Roaming rabbi finds a new home

At age 9, she dreamed of being an astronaut or a rabbi. Either would have brought her closer to God, but Batsheva Appel chose the latter. "Some of it was the really wonderful rabbis that I had been exposed to and the congregations that my parents had been exposed to," she said. "My parents were always very involved in the community where we were, teaching in a religious school, singing in the choir, serving on the board of trustees."

Churches feed body and soul

US.Department of Agriculture statistics show 17.4 percent of Mississippi households don't have access to adequate food because of lack of money or other resources. Times are tough. Budgets are tight, and people are hungry. That's why many Mississippi places of worship, adhering to the principles of their faith, are reaching out to feed the poor.

Churches to address social issues

Three traditionally African-American Methodist denominations will unite Monday for a historic event. For the first time in more than 45 years, congregations from the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches will convene in Columbia, South Carolina. The denominations with combined memberships of more than 5 million will meet Monday through Wednesday to discuss many social issues, including the plight of many black males.



Jackson ministry helps young girls develop a postive DIVAA attitude

The word "diva" is often used to describe someone larger than life, demanding and self-centered, but the DIVAAS at Jackson's Anderson United Methodist Church believe it's better to be humble and giving. DIVAAS, an acronym for Developing and Inspiring Virtue in the African-American Sisterhood, is a ministry Senatobia native Kashelia Harrion created. It is designed to help meet the social, spiritual and academic needs of African-American girls recruited to the program in grades 7-9.

Faith, family and ducks: Mississippians identify with Duck Dynasty's moral message

Daniel Jones, a student minister at Corinth's Tate Baptist Church, recently went to a worship service wearing a long, fake beard while dressed as Uncle Si Robertson from the popular A&E reality television series "Duck Dynasty." "I did have to take it off when I preached because it was a distraction," said Jones, whose church recently held a "Duck Dynasty"-themed party for its youth group.


Episcopal meeting to draw thousands: Civil rights anniversaries, Sudanese to be stressed

The gathering has been called the Episcopal equivalent of the Neshoba County Fair. More than 4,000 people are expected to attend the 184th annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi meeting this weekend at the Jackson Convention Complex. Some have deemed it the largest gathering of Mississippi Episcopalians in recent history.

Violins, music: Remembering the Holocaust

In 1996, Israeli master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein embarked on a spiritual journey to collect and restore musical artifacts that once belonged to Jewish musicians killed by Nazis. He put out a call asking for violins with histories, some of which had been played by concentration camp prisoners. His mission was to restore the violins in his Tel Aviv workshop, as well as the memory of the victims.


Learning about Judaism: History, theology, concepts of God

Stacy Dampf, a Presbyterian, grew up in Baton Rouge and sometimes felt like a religious outsider as a Catholic school student. After marrying a Jewish man, she decided to gain a new inside perspective on religion by attending Beth Israel Congregation's Introduction to Judaism classes Wednesday nights through April 4. "As we started seriously dating, we had a lot of discussions about religion and what it meant to us. My husband is interested in raising any future children we might have in the Jewish faith.

Churches honor Medgar Evers: Evers-Williams will speak at Sunday program

Medgar Evers' life and legacy are an important part of Mississippi's historic struggle for equal rights. That is why four Jackson Episcopal churches are coming together to hold an annual "Liturgy of Racial Reconciliation Commemorating the Life and Legacy of Medgar Wiley Evers" at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, will be the guest speaker.


A pastor's civil rights journey: From silence to activism

In 1964, Shaw native William McAtee, 77, became the minister at the Columbia Presbyterian Church in south Mississippi. Soon after, three young civil rights workers were killed outside Philadelphia 100 miles away. McAtee suddenly found himself working with other community leaders, trying to calm the volatile climate and improve race relations. He chronicles those days in Transformed: A White Mississippi Pastor's Journey into Civil Rights and Beyond ($35, University Press of Mississippi). It's a clergyman's story of resistance in the face of oppression.

Segregated services: Hands still not joined on Sundays

Mary E. Gilbert often drove right by the large, intimidating church buildings in her community, never stopping to go inside because she feared she would not be accepted or welcomed. God would invite her in, if He was there, but would the all-white congregation be as hospitable? The thought kept her away. The 26-year-old Jackson State University student recently shared her feelings with a diverse congregation at Central United Methodist Church. "Sunday Morning Segregation: How much has changed since the days of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?" was the latest topic of The Medgar Evers/Ella Baker Civil Rights Lecture Series.

Sex in the real world: Churches addressing AIDS, STDs

Sex may seem like a taboo subject to discuss in church. But not in some Jackson churches alarmed by recent federal statistics showing Jackson with the third highest rate of AIDS cases in the country. Hanging Moss Road Church of Christ and New Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church are two churches educating their congregations this month about the consequences of unsafe sex. "The leadership of the (church) realized that a church must minister to the spirits, bodies and souls of its members," said Joyce H. Smith, a registered nurse and chairwoman of Hanging Moss' Congregational Health Ministry.

Stewpot: Group that feeds the hungry expands services: Helping poor, disinfranchised in the community

With $2 million in pledges already committed, Stewpot Community Services is moving into the public phase of its fundraising campaign. The goal is $4 million. The Rev. Frank Spencer, chief executive officer of Stewpot, said the three-year Capital Campaign began in 2008 as an effort to renovate the organization's facility. "We were advised by our architect to repurpose the old sanctuary for the kitchen and make the eating space useful as a place where community events can be held," he said.

Sunday Girls: New organization based on founder's life lessons

On Sunday afternoons in the late 1960s when church let out in rural Collins, Jacqueline Boykin's brothers often played baseball at a neighbor's house while she and her sisters became "Sunday Girls." It was a routine established by her mother, who spent Sundays teaching her daughters that they were intelligent, powerful, divine beings with a special purpose in life. "My mother wanted to instill in her daughters a sense of strong faith and belief in themselves that they had the power to do whatever they wanted in this world," said Boykin, 51.


'The Man I am Today': Mississippi native recounts pain, hope; prepares for local concert

Byram resident Wanda Adams met country music star Ty Herndon in 1995 through his tour manager. She forged a friendship with the artist that has spanned more than a decade, and because of that relationship, Herndon has granted Adams' request to perform at her Byram church. He will sing music from his new Christian CD Journey On at 7 p.m. July 24 at the First Baptist Church of Byram.

Walk to Jerusalem: A spiritual journey

Brandon resident Nancy Simpson, 62, spent six years caring for her late husband, Frank, who died three years ago from a heart condition. The experience taught her life is short. So when St. Jude Catholic Church of Pearl started a Lenten program to encourage healthy physical and spiritual living, Simpson didn't hesitate to sign up. Since January, she's been taking a Walk to Jerusalem. The concept is simple. There are about 7,550 miles between the Pearl church and Jerusalem.

We love Lucy: Mom celebrates 30th birthday with fundraiser
for orphans in Ethiopia

Before they even began dating, Tupelo residents Anna and Russ Polsgrove talked about their desire to adopt. In 2008, several years after they wed, conversation turned to action. After reading blogs from families who had adopted children from Ethiopia, Anna Polsgrove felt a sense of urgency. "Every time I saw a picture of an Ethiopian child, I felt as though I could be looking at my own," she said. "For some reason, our hearts were drawn there. After seeing the first picture of our sweet Lucy, we knew why."