Rev. Eddie Willis had been the United Methodist Campus minister at the University of Mississippi for five years when he was asked to be the interim pastor of Taylor United Methodist two years ago. After two months of seeing this as a good fit with the congregation, Willis’ district superintendent asked for the interim pastor label to be changed into simply “pastor.”
Willis knew he had big shoes to fill following closely after Rev. Annette Ford, who had been the pastor of Taylor United Methodist for 19 years.
“For 19 years, she truly built the friendships, relationships in the church. She baptized the now young adults who make up part of our congregation,” Willis said. “She still takes a very active role in the church, and she means a great deal to us.”
In the time Willis has been active with the church, he has noticed not only the growth of the church, but that the town of Taylor has grown exponentially.
“With the growth of Taylor, a lot of people have moved out there, want to go to church out there, and they’re finding us, and hopefully we’re finding them,” Willis said. “We have seen a lot of growth from young couples with children, and even middle-aged and older people have been joining the church. There have been about 20 new members in the last few years.”
Taylor is known for its artistic history and Southern roots. While Willis can’t quite put his finger on it, he realizes the uniqueness of the town and how their church fits right into the atmosphere.
“There’s something about Taylor that I can’t describe that makes it so special. It’s an artistic community that meets small town America,” Willis said. “People are attracted to our quaint wooden building, and then they come in and see how alive and active it is. I’d like to think they’re drawing to that activeness and the excitement in God that we have.”
With developments sprouting up around the area, including Taylor Greene and Plein Air, Willis hopes that Taylor United Methodist is able to offer a welcoming environment to anyone looking for a place of worship.
“We hope it offers them relevant scriptural teaching in a family atmosphere. We hope they feel accepted in a loving congregation where everyone is accepted,” Willis said. “It’s a family atmosphere, and if you come in by yourself you’ll feel drawn in and accepted.”
As the church has grown, so has the programs it offers. The church recently started a youth group with the help of two college student interns, an adult Sunday school, children’s services each week and an increased effort has been placed on community outreach with cookouts, bringing in musicians and other events to unite the community.
“We want to open the doors and make sure we’re available,” Willis said. “We’re trying to hit every age group on all levels, and we try to preach where all can understand and if there’s need for deeper questions, I’m available at all times during the week. With all of the expansion, the message stays the same. We want everyone to have a close relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Being the director of the Ole Miss Wesley Foundation, Willis sees anywhere from 80 to 100 students attending weekly services in the Paris-Yates Chapel on the university’s campus. The opportunity to bring the two congregations together is another indication to Willis that they are moving in the right direction.
“I’m hoping that it can be a strong bridge between Ole Miss and Taylor Methodist. Students feel welcomed at our church and in the Taylor community,” Willis said. “We’ve already identified one student who feels that they want to be a minister. It allows us to give students a chance to be involved in Sunday services and serve as a helping hand for them in their journey before they begin in seminary.”
While the church is located in Taylor, people come from surrounding areas to join together inside the wooden walls of Taylor United Methodist.
“It’s amazing. It’s wonderful to have a smattering of different locations, ages, races coming together,” Willis said. “The expectations are different from everyone, and that allows for a unique experience. It strengthens the bond between the congregation.”
Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.