The members of two United Methodist churches have a new pastor, and he is bringing a unique kind of ministry with him.
Pastor Jonathan Stokes is deeply involved with motorcycle ministry and plans to extend that Christian outreach into Yazoo County. He currently serves as pastor at both Benton UMC and Midway UMC.
Stokes arrived in Benton in early July after serving as pastor at Coker’s Chapel United Methodist Church in southeast Lauderdale County, just outside of Meridian.
He brings with him his wife Laura, and their children.
Stokes is passionate about his ministry as a pastor and plans to maintain the regular order of worship and holiday traditions at Benton and Midway United Methodist Church, while also facilitating small groups for book studies and promoting community involvement for the church members.
"I am deeply intentional about ministry and helping people grow as disciples of Jesus Christ," he said. "Faith is individual, but it is lived out communal, so it partners people together to grow and to pray for one another, and to hold each other accountable is a high part of discipleship."
Stokes grew up as an Army dependent, traveling all over the world with his family while his father served in the military. When his father retired in 1995, the family settled in Starkville, which is the place Stokes considers "home."
Stokes graduated from Starkville High School in 1997. He married his wife Laura in 1998 and pursued vocational certifications in welding and machine tool and die.
It was while Stokes worked as a machine programmer in 2003 that he felt the Lord call him into the ministry.
"I said, 'Lord what do you need me to do? What are you trying to say?'" Stokes said. "And He reminded me of my past, the people who I have met that were broken and just felt alone, and He said 'Let them know that they aren't alone, let them know that I am there.'"
Stokes immediately asked his wife and his family to pray, and soon after he enrolled in Mississippi State University, where he achieved a Bachelor's Degree in History and Secondary Education.
After that, Stokes attended Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., where he received his Master's of Divinity in 2014.
Even though Stokes' military lifestyle had bounced him from place to place, his family was able to find church homes in the Methodist faith. His most memorable church homes were in the United Methodist Church as a child in Georgia, and as a youth at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Starkville.
While in seminary school in Kentucky, Stokes became deeply involved in the motorcycle ministry because of the large number riders who had formerly been a part of the military. He said that some of the members became bikers because they were looking for the sort of comradery that they had in the military, which is often not found in civilian life.
"Motorcycle ministry is deeply intentional, and it’s about building relationships with the motorcycle clubs in the area," he said, "We were ministering to about eight different clubs up there. One was the 1% (One-Percenters) group."
Groups like the "One-Percenters" are sometimes known to be more rough around the edges than others, but Stokes said that these members were very receptive and that they were able to build a close relationship with the club.
"They want that intentionality," Stokes said, "They are looking for that genuineness, and not judgment because of the clothes that they wear or how they look."
As a motorcycle minister, Stokes, nicknamed "Taz" by the members, was allowed to ride with the members from place to place, and also shared the gospel with them during club services.
Stokes said they would often separate the services for the club members allowing men to share with men and women with women in small group settings.
"They are very evangelical," he said. "They are speaking in tongues and laying hands. We are there to love, and not to preach at them. We are there to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they are looking for that authenticity."
Stokes was so involved with this particular ministry, that he was "patched in" by the club president as a part of the 1% Club because of his dedication and service to those members.
Upon finishing his degree in theology, Stokes returned home to Mississippi to begin working as a minister. He still maintains contact with his brothers and sisters in the motorcycle ministry in Kentucky and has also built relationships with other clubs in Mississippi.
Stokes said he hopes to build up the motorcycle ministry in Yazoo County, and he has already made contact with a few of the existing clubs in the area.
He said he is always available to meet with members of the community during his office hours Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
He also encourages people of the community to visit one of the churches during their Sunday morning service times.
Benton UMC, located at 1348 Old Highway 16 in Benton, begins Morning Worship at 9 a.m., followed by Sunday School at 10 a.m.
Midway UMC, located at 6325 Highway 433 North in Benton, starts Sunday School at 10 a.m. with Morning Worship following at 11 a.m.
"I am here for the members of this church, but I am here for the community as well," Stokes said. "I am always available if anyone needs to talk about the Lord, or what he is doing in your life."