On May 1, 2016 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., United Methodists in the Senatobia District and others from throughout Mississippi gathered at First United Methodist Church in Batesville for a retirement reception to honor Reverend Andy Ray. His years of ministry include serving numerous churches throughout Mississippi, serving as the Meridian District Superintendent, and he currently serves as the Senatobia District Superintendent.
During the presentations, Bishop Swanson announced that there was a special legacy gift of a scholarship to honor the Ray’s commitment to missions. The name of the scholarship is “The Rev. Andy and Mrs. Katherine Ray and the Senatobia District of the Mississippi Conference Scholarship at Africa University.” This is a perpetual scholarship so that each year, a student at Africa University will have a full scholarship for that year. Churches and individuals may contribute to the scholarship by making their check payable to the Senatobia District with the memo notation that it is for the scholarship. The district address is: P.O. Box 220, Senatobia, MS 38668, or they may contribute to the district offering at annual conference.
Cristen Craven Barnard, Senatobia District Lay Leader, created a special artwork for the invitation and the program. This artwork was displayed on an easel to allow everyone to write their comments on the artwork as a keepsake for the Rays. Katherine Ray also used the artwork for the cover of her book commemorating Andy’s 45 years of ministry. Additionally, Glenda Rhodes gave the Rays a quilt that she made honoring those 45 years of faithful service. There were numerous other contributions by those whose lives have been touched by the ministry and friendship of the Rays.
When Andy spoke of his call to ministry, he referenced Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” He does not remember a time when he did not sense a call to ministry. He did not plan on being a minister, but in his senior year, God’s call began to stir his soul during a revival. When the invitation was given, he and several of his classmates went forward to recommit their lives. When he returned to his back row pew, he knew that he had not done what God was urging him to do. Finally, he surrendered to the call to ministry. As he went back to the front of the church, his pastor dad embraced him and whispered, “I knew”. Andy’s mother cried, but her tears were not tears of joy. She knew how difficult ministry could be.
Andy is a third generation Mississippi Methodist pastor, and has been influenced by others in his family, especially pastors such as his father, his uncle, his grandfather, and two great uncles. His father, Reverend Wilson Ray, a retired United Methodist pastor of 67 years, has taught and inspired by example. Although Brother Wilson is physically challenged, he has never complained. He has faithfully persevered in his ministry.
Other servants of God that have had a profound impact on Andy’s ministry include the late Dr. George Green, MD of Benoit, Mississippi, and Bishop Kenneth Carder, one of five bishops Andy has served as a District Superintendent. Dr. Green reached out to the commercial fishermen families, established a church for them, and served them as a lay pastor. Andy commented that, “he was a man of great compassion.” Bishop Carder had the Superintendents read a book for every Cabinet meeting, and the cabinet benefitted from his gift of teaching. Andy stated that, “I did not always agree with him, but I always respected him as a man of great character and integrity.”
Katherine Ray has also been a significant supporter and contributor to Andy’s ministry. He said he married his high school sweetheart, and that she “has been the perfect clergy spouse.” He further stated that, “She has been my biggest advocate, but also my biggest critic when needed.”
Reverend Embra Jackson, Starkville District Superintendent, shared an account of a General Board of Pension and Benefits meeting that he and Andy attended in Chicago. When some of the attendees first met Brother Andy, they pulled Jackson aside and asked, “Why did you bring that country bumpkin with you?” They may have done so because of Andy’s southern accent or name. However, Embra said that before the conclusion of business that week, “Andy became the most popular and sought after person there . . . known for his humor, quick wit and keen insight.” Jackson further stated that, “He is a great leader.”
Tupelo businessman Rob Leake told of his experience being Andy’s prayer partner. Leake stated that, “his ability to comfort others, as well as the ability to receive comfort and advice, is a true gift that not all possess.” Leake also said that, “he and Katherine lead by example. They are always friendly, loving, and caring.”
Another Tupelo businessman, Tom Wicker, stated that “Andy Ray taught me a lot: about Scripture, about discipleship, about discipline (and the “Discipline”), and about what it means to be a Christian – accountable to Christ and to each other.”
Fellow minister, Reverence Danny Rowland, said of Andy during appointment time that, “Andy spent countless hours on it. He wanted the best for everyone involved.” He also added that, Andy “has been a good listener when I was hurting, and was even willing to trust me when he was hurting.”
Although Andy will be officially retiring in late June 2016, he plans to stay active in living out his call to ministry. He would welcome the opportunity to coach clergy and conduct leadership training in churches. He told Bishop Swanson that he “was going to join a Blues band and play the harmonica.” However, his most enthusiastic plans in retirement are to be full-time “Pops” to his grandson, Ari Fletcher.
When I think of my friend Andy Ray I think of words like planner, thinker, meticulous, dependable, devoted, fun loving, loyal and faithful. Our lives have been intertwined for over 40 years in ministry. I thank God for that.
Even though we both grew up in Mississippi, I came to know Andy when I went to seminary at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. His roots as a United Methodist minister in Mississippi grow much deeper than anyone I know. He follows his father, grandfather, an uncle and others who have served well in churches in our state. Andy has given the United Methodist Church his life. Period!
I remember visiting Andy in his office when we were just a few years out of seminary. It was mid-week and I was wondering what I would be preaching the next Sunday. But Andy told me how he had already planned what he was preaching for months ahead! Then he showed me his sermon filing system and explained how he was planning sermons for nine years! Everything Andy does is his very best. Everything! Whether it is serving the church, mowing his lawn, or doing woodwork, he gives it his very best.
I served as District Superintendent for a couple of years, and then was thrilled to learn that Andy was appointed District Superintendent also. I had already learned that position is not as easy as many might think. I remember Andy’s first experience in appointment making. He called me before our first session. He had several ministers who were moving, and to my surprise, he proceeded to tell me where each one of them was going to be appointed. He had it all written down! I hinted that appointment making didn’t usually happen that way, but I didn’t want to burst his bubble. However, when we reached the end of making appointments that year, very few of his ministers went where he had originally planned. No one agonized more over making appointments for ministers and churches. Andy spent countless hours on it. He wanted the best for everyone involved. In fact, he put so much of himself into it he would sometimes get sick during that time of the year.
Andy has played his harmonica ever since I have known him. He seems to pull it out when the mood is light; or when the mood is just too heavy. We attended his daughter Elizabeth’s wedding, which was a beautiful outdoor setting. Everything was just perfect. Andy was officiating, and since I had been there with my own daughter a few years earlier, I knew some of the emotions he must be feeling. As my wife and I were about to be seated, I pulled on Andy’s tie and said; “I thought you might be playing your harmonica today!” Andy just smiled a devilish smile, and I knew something was up. At the end of the ceremony he pulled his harmonica from his pocket and played Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World!”
Ministry has many, many blessings. However, it is not always easy. How thankful I am for Andy’s friendship. We have traveled some of the same paths. He has been a good listener when I was hurting, and was even willing to trust me when he was hurting.
Marilyn and I applaud Andy and Katherine for their many years of dedicated ministry, and since our retirement homes are not too far apart, we look forward to spending time with them in the future.
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Byhalia United Methodist Church is actively searching for an office administrator. Basic requirements for this 20-hour-per-week job include:
- Follower of Christ and a lover of people
- Proficient in Microsoft Word and reasonably knowledgeable in Excel
- Knowledge of or a willingness to learn Servant Keeper church management software
- Able to manage calendars and schedules
- Good communications skills via telephone and internet
Terms of employment are negotiable. For more information contact Pastor Stephen Bittick at (662) 838-2237 or email at email@example.com.