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St. Paul’s new youth director in the right place

Wilson Locke is where he is supposed to be.

A Starkville native and a 2019 graduate of Mississippi State University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion, Locke is the new youth minister for St. Paul Catholic Church.

“I told somebody the other day that God has asked me to come here and placed me in a situation in the exact time that I’m supposed to be here,” he said.

His appointment at St. Paul is a reunion for him and St. Paul pastor the Rev. Rusty Vincent, who he met at St. Joseph.

“I’m a convert to the church and when I was going through some very bad times, I walked into St. Joseph’s and Father Rusty was celebrating Mass,” he said.  “After Mass, I kind of snagged him and asked him about doubts and questions I had, and then we went to Israel together on a pilgrimage. It was on my pilgrimage I decided to go to RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), leave Protestantism, and turn to the church.”

When Vincent was looking for someone to fill the youth director’s position, he said, the Rev. Jason Johnston, a Vicksburg native and St. Joseph’s pastor, recommended Locke for the job.

“My name was the first one that came to him,” Locke said.

Locke has been involved in youth ministry since he was a member of the Church of Christ, and he draws on his own experiences when he works with middle and high school students.

“In middle school and high school I made some very bad choices,” he said. “Becoming a Christian for me changed my whole life; God gave me a fresh start. He gave me a new life.

“Being a youth minister for me is helping youth, teenagers, find Christ, and if I can help one teenager from not making the same mistakes I did when I was their age, I will have done my job,” Locke said. “I’ve been through a lot and I’ve found that if I talk about it I’m sure to find somebody else who has struggled with the same things or is currently struggling with the same things and it allows me a bridge to help somebody else go through something I’ve experienced.”

So far, Locke said, he hasn’t been able to meet the youth of the parish. He said the church follows the schedule of St. Aloysius High School, “So summers can be slow, but the pandemic has limited what we can do.”

The Diocese of Jackson, he said, has good policies regarding COVID-19 protection, “And they’re trying to keep everybody safe and that limits what we can do, but if it helps prevent folks from getting sick, then it’s absolutely worth it.”

Presently, he said, he has no long-range goals, although he wants to get the church’s Catholic Youth Organization programs reorganized.

“I some ways, my goal is to serve God,” Locke said. “In the scriptures, Christ talks about not worrying what tomorrow brings because today will have enough troubles of its own.

“I try not to think too far ahead; just on the here and now and what God wants me to do and trust that whatever he has planned in the future will be good for me.”

Besides his work for the parish, Locke is working on a master’s degree in Christian ministry at Lipscomb University, Nashville, Tenn., which is affiliated with the Church of Christ.

“I enrolled in the program before I converted,” Locke said. “By the time I converted I had spent a bunch of money and I wanted to finish and get my degree.”

Locke arrived in Vicksburg on June 20 and the transition into his new position has been smooth.

“It was a very easy transition to move, it’s been an easy transition settling in here,” he said. “I get pretty homesick; I lived in Starkville my whole life. I miss my friends and family, but three hours is a doable drive. I try to go back as often as I can to see them.”

And while the load of working with youth programs at St. Paul within the parameters of the church’s and the diocese’s COVID-19 policies and trying to finish his advanced degree is a big challenge, Locke believes he’s up to the task.

“God is not one who makes things easy,” he said. “He likes to challenge us and keep on our toes, so for whatever reason, I am where I’m supposed to be and that gives me comfort in all the uncertainties.”   

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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