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Clergy-couple winning hearts in Mississippi Delta

 


Clergy-couple winning hearts in Mississippi Delta

July 8, 2004                                                      

 

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

United Methodist News Service

 

ROLLING FORK, Miss.—The Revs. Eric and Lisa Pridmore, two 30-somethings with a child and a dog, are pastors to a three-point United Methodist charge in rural Mississippi. Two of the churches are historically white and one is historically black.

Church members at all three churches joke that they weren’t too sure when they heard the bishop was sending them a woman pastor and a male pastor who was visually impaired and needed a guide dog, and that they were coming to Mississippi from New Jersey.

 

But, as Rebecca McGee, a member at Clarks Chapel United Methodist Church, says, the couple “has done won the hearts in the Mississippi Delta.”

Every Sunday, the Pridmores trade off preaching at three churches, Goodman Memorial, Clarks Chapel and Rolling Fork.

 

Goodman Memorial United Methodist Church

The first stop for the Pridmores on Sundays is the 9 a.m. worship service at Goodman Memorial United Methodist Church in the small town of Cary, Miss.

Established in 1884, the historically white church smells like old wood and the pews are covered in soft, red velvet. The arched windows are bright and inviting. Not too many people sit in the wooden pews, but those who are there are faithful to their church.

Three-year-old Mary Ruth Pridmore is in charge of handing out the church bulletins.

Eric, Lisa and Gene, Eric’s Seeing Eye dog, take their places at the front of the church. Lisa does all the reading on this Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Eric is the preacher. Gene sleeps quietly beside Eric most Sundays. Today, however, he’s having one of those “doggie dreams” and his legs twitch and he softly moans. It’s not enough to disturb the worship service, but it does give Lisa and Eric a moment of panic.

Mary Ruth, under the watchful eyes of church members, quietly entertains herself with a coloring book.

Once the service is over, everyone goes down to the fellowship hall for cookies and coffee before Lisa, Eric, Gene and Mary Ruth have to split up and go to their two other charges.

Clarks Chapel United Methodist Church

On this Sunday, Lisa drives Eric and Gene just a few miles down the road to the historically black United Methodist church, where Eric will preach the 11 a.m. service. Lisa and Mary Ruth drive on into town to Rolling Fork United Methodist Church, where Lisa will preach the sermon.

Clarks Chapel is held together by the sheer willpower of Rebecca McGee. The plain, white-wooden church has a blank plank out front, the writing long ago washed away. Part of the ceiling has caved in from all of the recent rain and the paneled walls are warped and wavy. The pews in this church don’t have any cushions. Big gas heaters separate the second pews from the third one and a handmade banner graces the front of the church.

For the first few minutes McGee is the only church member but as the service goes on more people join in and the spirit moves through the small building.

McGee does the readings at this service and as the Pridmores have learned, the service may or may not follow along with the printed bulletin. When it is time for Eric to preach, Gene stays on the floor next to McGee.

The Pridmores know it really doesn’t make sense to keep two United Methodist churches open with the shrinking population in Cary.

Eric sees socioeconomic differences as bigger barriers than racial ones at the three churches.

Recently, all three churches worshipped together in celebration of Eric’s ordination and Gene’s commissioning. The Pridmores want to bring the churches together more often.

“It doesn’t solve every problem, but it makes an important statement,” Eric says.

 

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

·(615) 742-5479·Nashville, Tenn.· E-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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