Thursday, August 20, 2009
First United Methodist welcomes new minister
By SUE WATSON
Milton and Cindy Whatley are the new ministerial family at First United Methodist Church in Holly Springs. They took their new charge in late June and are getting settled in at the parsonage and meeting the community.
The Whatleys spent the last year serving Methodists in Puckett, a small town about 20 miles south of Brandon in Rankin County and close to Milton Whatley’s hometown of Florence.
Whatley has been a Methodist minister for 30 years. He took his first church in the Eupora area shortly after graduating from Delta State University in 1979.
Whatley is a graduate of Delta State Class of 1979, where he studied with the intent to teach history, but instead earned a degree in speech and theater with the knowledge that speaking before church groups was his life’s calling.
He graduated from Memphis Theological Seminary in 1984.
He said his call to the ministry was a gradual one, beginning while a student at Delta State. He worked at the Camp Lake Stevens United Methodist youth camp near Oxford while in college and was active in the Wesley student organization at DSU. While speaking before those groups in various churches, Whatley felt a gentle tug toward the ministry, rather than a Road to Damascus type calling.
Whatley said God calls to each individual in a different way.
“The Spirit woos us all in different ways,” he said. “Our problem is we just don’t listen. Sometimes it takes a clap of thunder to get our attention.”
Whatley believes God speaks continually to each individual’s point of need, but humans aren’t always listening.
“We go through life concentrating on the wrong things, asking the wrong questions,” he said. “God has the right answers; we just don’t want to slow down and listen.”
Taking time for quiet reflection is “a lesson our Catholic brothers’ and sisters’ tradition takes very seriously, special times of retreating and coming apart from the world.”
He said people have fragmented themselves.
“God wants to make us not only holy, but whole,” he said.
Whatley has pastored churches as far north as Corinth and as far south as Prentiss. And he has served in the Hills and the Delta, spending over a decade in the Delta farming country. He said every church is challenging and all are the same in many ways.
“I meet real life people with real life problems,” he said.
Whether the problem is a heavy weight on one’s shoulders from business not doing well, or an aging parent or sick grandchild or that dreaded call from the doctor with bad news, real life problems are what people need help with, he said.
“My role is to be a presence,” he said.
As a young minister, Whatley learned the lesson about presence not long after taking his first church in Eupora while visiting an older couple - Robert and Lois.
“Robert was just bouncing back after a long illness, driving his truck, drinking coffee with his buddies and back in the field doing what farmers do,” said Whatley.
“They were optimistic about the way the future was looking. About 30 minutes after I left they had gone to the barn and he grabbed a bale of hay and was throwing it up on the tailgate of his truck when he collapsed and died.”
Whatley got the call and returned immediately to their home.
“I felt green and useless,” he said. “All I knew to do was to hold her hand and listen to her talk and cry. I stayed there till the kids came.”
A week later, Whatley visited Lois again and she seemed to be doing better.
“Thank you so much for what you did last week,” she said to Whatley. “You made those moments so much easier.”
Whatley said what she needed was a presence that reminded her that in this terrible moment, she was not alone.
“I take very seriously the ministry of presence,” he said.
The Whatleys have been married since 1984. They have no children unless you count the two cats, Abigail and Muffin.
Cindy Whatley has worked as an ad creator for newspapers, including her last job at the Scott County Times working for Sid Salter, and also producing ad copy for the Prentiss Headlight.
Cindy grew up in Sumner where her mother and father still live. Milton’s mother lives in Florence and will be a happy 85 years old in October.
The Whatleys are glad to be the new kids on the block in Holly Springs.
“Cindy and I consider it a great privilege to be given the opportunity to move to Holly Springs and we look forward to many years contributing to the life of the community,” he said. “It’s a great place to be.”
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