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Health Emergency Changes Churches in Mississippi

MC graduate Jason Morrow, youth pastor at First Baptist Church Columbus
MC graduate Jason Morrow, youth pastor at First Baptist Church Columbus

Jason Morrow transitioned to swift changes as the youth pastor at First Baptist Church Columbus.

A Mississippi College graduate, Morrow adjusted how he ministers as the deadly Coronavirus spreads. Many residents statewide are staying home to try to curb the rapid spread of the virus.

The health emergency prompted First Baptist Church Columbus to close its doors in mid-March to the 500-member congregation for Sunday services. Now, Morrow meets with FBC teens via Zoom. Church services are available online.

People never envisioned this global pandemic as the virus outbreak first hit China. 

“We all miss being together in worship,” Morrow says. The virus can’t last forever. Someday, FBC Columbus will open its doors again, with a traditional format. “It will be a tremendous day. I hope to see revival come.”

Meanwhile, Morrow joins church leaders reaching out to Columbus firefighters, medical personnel at Baptist Memorial Hospital and others on the front lines.

“We’ve taken meals to Columbus fire departments and clinics to show our appreciation to them,” the 2000 MC graduate said by phone Friday. Church staffers call senior citizens daily to help calm fears in the Northeast Mississippi community.

“We want to make sure we are connected in the body of Christ,” Morrow says. “We want to be available for prayer.”

These are stressful times for home-bound families. That’s true as well for medical personnel, police and first responders working long hours.

An MC English major, Morrow, 43, began his career as a Clinton Junior High teacher. But God had different plans for his life. James earned a master’s degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and made the ministry his focus.

Ironically, one of his friends at Mississippi College, Evan Lenow, was one of his seminary professors in Texas. Lenow serves as director of church and minister relations at his alma mater in Clinton.

Lenow praises pastors working amid tough times. “I have been encouraged by their willingness to try new models of ministry but can also relate to their desire to gather in person as a body of believers once it is safe to do so.”

After statewide health restrictions are lifted, people will “look back and realize churches played a unique role in keeping communities together during the time of social distancing,” Lenow said.

In his third year as youth pastor at First Baptist Church Columbus, Jason traveled on mission trips to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and across the USA. One thing the former Hillcrest Baptist Church student minister learned is “you can always expect plans to change.”

That clearly happened for many people this Spring. “Things change, but we are here to serve and to love,” Morrow said.

COVID-19 meant changes in his own home. Morrow’s wife, Lauren, seeks a nursing degree, with classes now online. They are the parents of four children, from pre-K along with fourth, fifth and eighth graders. Mississippi schools are closed through at least April 17.

As youth pastor, the Petal native lets church kids have a little fun during Zoom sessions. “People brought their pets in and showed off their dogs.”

Amid the crisis, Morrow connects with other Columbus area youth ministers. Rather than weekly breakfast meetings, they fellowship remotely via online Marco Polo chats.

The health emergency sparked change for Mississippi College graduate Logan Ellzey of Madison. He’s the student pastor at Ridgecrest Baptist Church. Staffers work remotely. All church activities were either cancelled or moved to a digital format.

“What started as an extended Spring Break for our students has become a drudgery of online classes and our seniors are going to lose a very important milestone in their lives,” says Ellzey. Parents are stressed about their finances, too, as they deal with children at home 24/7.

Through social media, and conference calls, Ridgecrest Baptist staff help people cope with anxiety.

“We are equipping our parents to lead godly families during this season and encouraging our students to grow in their faith,” Ellzey, 27, says. “COVID-19 has definitely thrown the world for a loop, but we as a church are working hard to meet the needs of our community around us.”

America’s second oldest Baptist college, MC, “gave me the tools and experiences to face this new season,” he said.

A 2015 MC graduate with a degree in business administration, Logan earned his master’s in divinity at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.