TUPELO — Jay White stood behind the pulpit to deliver his first sermon as senior pastor at East Heights Baptist Church in Tupelo on Christmas Day.
Gathering that morning, the congregation sang traditional Christmas hymns like “O Holy Night” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and White preached a message from Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke about “Jesus bringing salvation to the world through his birth.”
White, 47, is an Oxford native who had previously spent 13 years living in Walnut and serving as pastor at Chalybeate Baptist Church.
A search committee at East Heights contacted him about trying out its job, and from there “the Lord just opened a door,” White said.
Leaving the church he’d pastored for so long was a tough choice.
“It was hard to leave because my previous church was like family, and my children all were raised there,” White said. “They all grew up, basically, in that church and that community and those schools.”
White has been with East Heights for three Sundays now, and he and his family are excited to be in Tupelo.
Right away, the congregation of around 150 members has welcomed White and his family — wife, Heather; daughter Caitlin; and sons Corbin and Ethan. Caitlin and Corbin both attend Blue Mountain Christian University; Ethan is a student at Saltillo High School.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know the people more and reaching more people in our community for Christ,” White said.
White is not unfamiliar with the All-America City. After graduating Itawamba Community College with an electronics degree, he worked as an engineer at WTVA. Three years later, White took a job at BellSouth in Oxford until he was called into ministry at 28 years old.
White earned a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2004 and started full-time ministry 16 years ago as a youth pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jackson, Tennessee.
When he felt called to become a pastor, he earned a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and moved on to Chalybeate Baptist.
White is an expository preacher, meaning he preaches through books of the Bible verse by verse. Everything the church does is going to be focused on the word of God, he said.
For now, his goal is to see the church grow — both literally and spiritually.
“The hope is for the members here to all grow spiritually,” White said. “And the hope is also to grow numerically to reach more people for Jesus.”
They’ll do that through community outreach, White said, with a focus on children’s ministry. In his experience, most Christians come to faith under the age of 18.
He invites anyone in the Tupelo area to stop by and visit the church, located at 205 Lake Street, for worship.
“Our doors are open. We want to reach people,” White said. “We welcome all people.”
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