Sunday, July 3, 2022

Burns Pastor Seeks Church’s Revitalization

New Burns Church Pastor Rev. Chris Diggs / Photo By HottyToddy.com
New Burns Church Pastor Rev. Chris Diggs / Photo By HottyToddy.com

Forty reserve parking spaces to be sold for Ole Miss football games as part of fundraising effort

Chris Diggs arrived in Oxford this month excited to be pastor of the oldest African-American church in the city.

He was surprised to learn that Burns United Methodist Church was in some financial distress.

Meanwhile, just blocks across town, Oxford community leaders have pumped $1.2 million federal and local dollars into renovation of Burns-Belfry, the former home of Burns Church, to make it a museum and multicultural center.

“Burns Church has played a primary role in the life of Oxford’s African American Community for more than 50 years,” said Jim Pryer, president of the Oxford-Lafayette Heritage Foundation, the group overseeing the renovating.

Today, Rev. Diggs finds Burns church in disrepair and its members disheartened, detached and lacking hope. But his enthusiasm for Burns Church has not diminished.

“I am not discouraged, because I believe this church can and will return to its prominent place of leadership in this community,” Rev. Jones said.

Burns leaders hope to strengthen their relationship with Burns Belfry and to develop enrichment opportunities for the community.

“God has been opening doors and putting people to support and encourage me along the way, all my life, and this challenge is no different. Good people are stepping forward to help,” he said.

Rev. Diggs’ wife calls him “the clean up preacher”, reflecting the mission they share to turn things around at Burns and to build a vibrant church that can serve as liaison between the poor and our community, to give them hope and show them the greatest resources in America are right here within our reach.

“I sense a mindset that must change. My members don’t see the opportunities, particularly our young people, yet we live in the most prosperous community in the state, and we can see from our property one of the greatest universities in America which is available to all of us. We just have to see and take advantage of the opportunities,” Rev. Diggs said.

Diggs never knew his father but was inspired by a grandfather who had one leg yet prospered enough to buy land and build a home in Monroe County. Rev. Diggs was one of six African-Americans to attend the Monroe County school from which he graduated. He attended Itawamba Community College, where he played basketball for two years, attended East Community College and ultimately graduated from Ole Miss and received a graduate degree from Gammon Theological Seminary.

“Once when I was about to drop out of school, Dr. Carl Grubbs called me in, looked me in the eye and said I would never amount to anything if I did not go to school,” Diggs said. “He told me to go to Ole Miss in Tupelo.

“I grew up with the usual prejudices and hated of Ole Miss for its history, but when I got to the Tupelo campus, I found wonderful people who embraced me. One person was Gail Wicker, Senator Roger Wicker’s wife, who works at the Tupelo Branch of Ole Miss. She was great and encouraged me. She and Senator Wicker even came to my church a couple of times,” he said.

“God has placed people in my path to help all along my way. I want to help and inspire our members, particularly our young people, and let them know they can do great things in this community and that God always provides people to help and will show the way,” he said.

HottyToddy.com is working with Burns Church, located just two blocks from the campus, to sell reserved season parking spaces for Ole Miss football. Changes in campus parking policies have created a demand for off-campus parking.

“It would be blessing and windfall if we can sell our 40 parking spots. We can even give fans a partial tax write-off,” Rev. Diggs said. Rev. Diggs hopes to see the Church’s bank account grow so that the church can expand it’s programs and have a stronger community outreach. –– Ed Meek, publisher, HottyToddy.com Email Ed Meek at edmeek!@gmail.com

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