(RNS) — C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, was grabbing lunch from one of his regular spots when the restaurant manager made an announcement to all the patrons.
“Guys, we have to shut down. We have no water pressure.”
On Aug. 29, flooding from the nearby Pearl River caused complications at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, resulting in a loss of pressure and running water for the entire city.
At more than 160,000 people, Jackson is Mississippi’s largest city and the state capital. Schools, which had only just commenced classes, had to be shut down, and the city lacked water for even emergency services such as firefighting.
The crisis quickly made national news, and people from around the country turned their attention to Jackson seeking explanations and ways to help.
Within the city, residents quickly organized to help their neighbors and communities. At the center of these efforts stood faith leaders.
“Churches throughout the city of Jackson across denomination, class and race have engaged in water distributions at their churches or by giving water away in other ways,” said Rhodes.
His church became a water distribution site. As provisions flooded into the city from around the country, churches like his became hubs for supplying residents. Sometimes churches filled in where municipal distribution efforts were limited. They could stay open after hours to serve people who couldn’t make it to the city’s distribution sites before closing.
Jennifer Biard, lead pastor of Jackson Revival Center Church, lost water several days before the city-wide announcement. She came home and found the faucets simply didn’t work.
While dealing with her own water troubles, she led her church in providing for others in the southern part of the city where they have a campus. Throughout the crisis many water distribution sites were set up at various locations, but Biard and her volunteers went even further. They loaded up cases of water and hand-delivered them to individuals and businesses.
“One thing people don’t understand is that when you have people who are disabled, people who are without transportation, they may not be able to go out to the distribution sites,” she explained.
Individual churches were not the only bodies that got involved.
Reginald M. Buckley is the pastor of Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He is also the president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi (GMBSC), an association of churches providing mutual aid to member congregations.
“There’s only so much any local church can do … (the convention) acts as a connector,” Buckley said.
His goal was to mobilize people and supplies from across the state and nation to help people in Jackson. The state convention has its own 18-wheel truck as well as an extensive network of churches and personnel they contacted to help.
“Though this is a trying time, one of the things that I am most grateful for is the unity that people are able to observe, how they are seeing pastors and churches come together regardless of race, regardless of denomination, regardless of anything that would divide. They are seeing the body of Christ come together like never before,” Buckley said.
Despite the efforts of churches and faith communities to provide relief, the water problems in Jackson are much deeper than a breakdown at the water plant.
The city had already been under a boil water notice for a month before the entire water system failed. Even after the city’s water pressure was restored nearly a week later, the boil water notice has remained in effect.
Although the water plant has come back online, the infrastructure issues remain.
“Now that the plant is up and running, water is flowing again, now we have to live with pipes bursting … We still have lead leaching from the pipes into the water. We still have the EPA saying the city has failed to do a number of things and if they don’t remedy those things, there may be federal seizure of the water system,” Rhodes said.
Given the continued failure to bring Jackson’s water infrastructure system up to date, Buckley said he is preparing for the next crisis.
“What we’re absolutely convinced of is that we’re going to be faced with this again, and not in the distant future but in the near future,” he said.
Buckley is working to build a stockpile of supplies to have on hand the next time the city loses water. “We are inundated with water right now. We are partnering with the Church of Christ Holiness to create a reserve and supplies center to house water, buckets and all kinds of supplies,” he said.
The constant lack of clean water and water pressure has worn on Jackson’s residents, 80% of whom are Black.
“We should have water,” Biard, who is white, said. “We should have water whether it’s cold or hot or snowing or raining.”
Jackson exists alongside wealthier suburbs including Madison, a community north of the city that is also the wealthiest in the state.
After years of experiencing a crumbling infrastructure alongside the comparative wealth of nearby towns, a freshman college student who is Black asked Buckley, “What’s wrong with me?”
“We assured her there was nothing wrong with her. There is something wrong with the world,” said Buckley, who tried to help his young parishioner understand that the fault did not rest with who she was but with external factors and decisions made by others.
Anticipating the need not only for material supplies but spiritual relief, award-winning gospel artist John P. Kee volunteered to perform a benefit concert in Jackson.
A friend of Kee’s in Jackson connected him to Biard, and he immediately knew she was someone who could help him set up the concert but also become an ongoing partner.
“I wanted to come in and partner with such a ministry where we could actually connect, and when I’m gone I’ll stay in touch, and I’ll be family,” Kee said.
Fixing Jackson’s pipes, water plant and other infrastructure needs requires resources that exceed what local churches can provide. Yet the lightning-quick response of faith leaders and their communities when the hour of need emerged provides evidence that help will be there in a crisis.
The show of unity by churches in Jackson may even be a sign of greater changes to come.
According to Biard, “I believe that this may be not just the initiation of a fresh start for Jackson, I believe it’s going to be a comprehensive fresh start … I believe that the Lord is getting ready to do something for Mississippi as a whole.”
To support local efforts to address the water crisis in Jackson, donate below.
Jemar Tisby. Photo courtesy Acorn Studio
General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi
Corporation of Global Community, a ministry of Jackson Revival Center Church.
(Jemar Tisby, PhD, is a historian, author and speaker. He wrote “The Color of Compromise” and “How to Fight Racism,” and he frequently writes about race, religion and politics in his newsletter, “Footnotes.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Singer, author, and worship leader Anthony Evans collaborated with licensed psychotherapist and TV personality Stacy Kaiser on a new book, “When Faith Meets Therapy: Find Hope and a Practical Path to Emotional, Spiritual, and Relational Healing.”
Evans, a well-known Christian musician and the son of renowned Pastor Drs. Tony and Lois Evans, and Kaiser, a sought-after professional, media personality, and speaker, met five years ago when he sought emotional, relational, and spiritual healing.
“I hit up Stacy after seeing credits role after a TV show. I saw her, and the way she handled a scenario. I’m desperate. Let me see these credits. And normally, I’m sure her staff was like, uh oh, crazy person alert, but they just looked me up and realized this dude’s not nuts. He just happened to find you on TV. And so are you willing to see him? And so she told her people, yes,” said Evans.
Kaiser led Evans through a process of internal renovation and continues as his personal therapist. The two opened the world up about their partnership through their When Faith Meets Therapy Zoom talks. With the release of their book, the duo takes the conversation around mental health and faith to the next level, packaging insights from Anthony’s personal experience with therapy and poignant takeaways from Kaiser.
“A therapist, client relationship is confidential except for things like if somebody is harming themselves or someone else or child abuse and things like that — so we had to have that conversation, but Anthony was on board, and we made a deal that he’s going to share his story. I’m not. And that’s what the book is. Anthony really talking about his story and giving his wisdom and then me giving therapeutic advice throughout — the kinds of things I would say to Anthony or any other client that I was working with,” said Kaiser.
The authors offer hope and practical steps to getting started on a mental health journey, examples of strategies that worked for Anthony and encourage readers to take the next step toward individualized professional help if needed.
“In our book, Stacy and I want to have an open, honest conversation about faith and mental health in a way that doesn’t make a person feel worse about themselves and their relationship with God,” writes Anthony. “A lot of faith meeting therapy is talking about boundaries and balance, power and responsibility, fear and healthy relationships. Mental, physical, and spiritual health are connected. It all works together.”
The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church has elected its second woman bishop and received its first episcopal address from a woman during its quadrennial General Conference.
“I think when you elect the first you have to be really careful that they just don’t become a token and so I was really excited,” said Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, who was the first woman elected in 2010 and serves as the secretary on the College of Bishops.
The Rev. Denise Anders-Modest, pastor of Trinity CME Church in Memphis, Tenn., and coordinator of the CME Commission on Women in Ministry, will serve the 2nd Episcopal District, which includes Kentucky, Ohio and Central Indiana.
The Rev. Denise Anders-Modest. Photo courtesy of Farish Street Baptist Church
Her forerunner was particularly pleased that voting delegates chose Anders-Modest as the second to win election to the role of bishop, not waiting until the last opportunity to add another woman to the CME episcopacy. “That’s also quite commendable that people were able to see her qualifications and not just, ‘oh, we need a woman bishop.’”
Jefferson-Snorton achieved another first this year, becoming the first woman to give the episcopal address — the message given on behalf of the bishops to the denomination — on June 25, the first official day of the gathering at the Duke Energy Center in Cincinnati. The meeting, which was attended by about 2,500 people, is set to conclude Friday (July 1).
She also was elected as the denomination’s new ecumenical and development officer, a role that no longer requires her to also lead a district of churches. Part of her role will be to seek resources to create and work on ministry and outreach programs at both the denominational and local levels.
“I see lots of our churches that are in communities that have such need but the local church itself doesn’t really have the capacity to go out and look for funds or even manage the program,” she said.
The delegates, who attended in person, also elected the second African bishop in the history of the denomination, which was founded in 1870 and claims 1.2 million U.S. members. It has sister churches and missions in 14 African countries, Haiti and Jamaica.
The Rev. Kwame L. Adjei, a member of the CME Church’s Judicial Council and a former associate pastor and high school chaplain in his native Ghana, will serve the 11th District, which is in East Africa.
The Rev. Kwame Lawson Adjei, right, is the new bishop-elect for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s 11th District, located in East Africa. Courtesy of CME Church Facebook
He will be the second African bishop. Bishop Godwin T. Umoette, the first African-born bishop was elected in 2010 and died earlier this year.
“Because we do consider ourselves the international church,” Jefferson-Snorton said, “bishops in the leadership needed to also include a voice that was not just the American voice but someone at the table of the College of Bishops who brought another cultural perspective.”
Other new bishops are: the Rev. Clarence K. Heath, pastor, Carter Metropolitan CME Church of Fort Worth, Texas, who will lead the 5th Episcopal District, based in Birmingham, Alabama; the Rev. Charley Hames Jr., senior pastor of the Beebe Memorial Cathedral in Oakland, California, who will lead the 9th Episcopal District, based in Los Angeles; and the Rev. Ricky D. Helton, senior pastor of Israel Metropolitan CME Church in Washington, D.C., who will lead the 10th Episcopal District, based in West Africa.
Despite temperature checks and other measures to keep the gathering free of COVID-19, some attendees tested positive during the General Conference.
Jefferson-Snorton, who also is board chair of the National Council of Churches, said she did not know how many people tested positive but she quarantined for three days after she learned her husband tested positive.
“No one has had to go the hospital,” she said. “It wasn’t like gaping holes in the delegation.”
In recent weeks, other gatherings of religious denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have had COVID-19 cases as well.
“We had a handful of attendees who reported they had tested positive for COVID-19 in the days following their trip to Anaheim,” said Jonathan Howe, vice president for communications of the SBC Executive Committee. “None of those with whom we spoke were able to identify the source of their specific case, nor did any report significant illness that required hospitalization.”
Preliminary meetings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) featured reports of 13 cases of COVID-19, its stated clerk said in a June 23 statement posted on Twitter.
“We believe that this week’s small outbreak of positive cases did not originate from the Presbyterian Center or during General Assembly meeting times,” said the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II about the gathering in Louisville, Kentucky. “Rather, the source of this outbreak appears to have occurred outside of official General Assembly activities involving receptions and other hospitality events.”