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Crawford Street set to welcome the Rev. Atkins

July 2, Crawford Street United Methodist Church will have new voice from the pulpit.

The Rev. Tom Atkins, presently pastor of First United Methodist Church in Brookhaven, is replacing the Rev. Cary Stockett, who is leaving Crawford Street to be pastor of Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church in Jackson.

“I’m looking forward to coming to Vicksburg,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful community, and one of my biggest commitments is that we all work together in unity across denominations. I think we’re all one in Christ and have more in common than we differ. I look forward to working with the other churches and the other pastors in the community.”

A native of Columbus, Atkins has been in the ministry for 42 years. He has a degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, in religion and social work, and was ordained in 1975 after graduating from the seminary at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“I was involved in the church at an early age,” he said of his decision to become a minister. “I was involved in our youth group, but I was also involved in our conference youth ministry program. I was president of the conference council on youth ministry for north Mississippi for a couple of years in high school, and I felt God called me into the ministry when I was in high school, and at Lake Stevens United Methodist Camp in Oxford.”

After his ordination, he entered hospital chaplaincy training at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and later served as a hospital chaplain and pastoral counselor for 16 years, first directing a counseling program in Rapid City, S.D., for seven years, then serving as hospital and hospice chaplain in Dallas for nine.

“I felt called in that area (counseling) at the time,” Atkins said. “We had to serve a church for three years before we went into chaplaincy, and so I served a church in Rapid City for three years and then got into the chaplaincy. I was a middle manager in a 600-bed acute care facility in Rapid City. “

But while he loved counseling and enjoyed his time working in hospital ministry, he said, “I felt the call back into the parish.”

He missed the joy of being in a community in which he worked in partnership with people in ministry, and “I wanted to get back basically into an intentional Christian community, and so preaching and teaching are strengths of mine, and pastoral care, and I enjoy being in an active Christian community that reaches beyond the four walls and cares for people in the community.

“The missions are a high priority for me; local missions as well as foreign missions.”

He returned to Mississippi in 1997 as pastor of Pisgah United Methodist Church outside McComb, serving there for four years. He also served as director of the course of studies program at Millsaps College in Jackson for two years, and Como United Methodist Church in north Mississippi for five years. At the same time, he taught religion and philosophy at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, specializing in ethics.

“In Como, I was involved in a children’s program in two schools and taught the Bible with them, and also was involved in a outreach food distribution program I helped start.” He received a president’s award for volunteerism in the community for his work.

Volunteerism and reaching out to the community is a very high priority for him, Atkins said, and it’s something he encourages his congregation to do.

“Almost every time at the end of the service, the benediction, I will basically say, ‘You’ve heard the word, now it is our responsibility to go out beyond these four walls and share the good news in the gospel and God’s love for everyone.’

“I really encourage people to utilize their spiritual gifts for the building up of the church, and I see as our main responsibility as a church to reach out beyond the four walls and share the love of Christ as well as the love of Christ that will provide healing and transformation for the community.”

He said he plans to become very active in Crawford Street’s Service Over Self program, and will be in Vicksburg Tuesday for the program’s start.

He also plans to be involved with the church’s Honduras Mission team.

He said leaving Brookhaven after serving three years produces mixed emotions.

“I’ve made some very good friends here, and we’ve gotten some active ministries started. We have a visitation team that the laity are involved with that they didn’t have before, we’ve started programs like a backpack ministry for children who need supplemental food over the weekend, and so I’m going to miss that. But I’m a United Methodist pastor, so I go where I’m sent, and that’s a vow that we made at ordination.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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