155-year-old Chickasaw County Church gets new life


Houston, Miss. (AP) – New Hope Church, on a country road halfway between Houlka and Okolona, ​​was founded on Oct. 6, 1866, less than a year after the civil war ended.

That day, Isaac Mullins and William Gaskin deeded the land to the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church “for the establishment of a church on this site,” according to church records. There has been a church on this site ever since.

The cemetery behind the church is home to at least three Civil War veterans. They share the shaded cemetery with community members who have called this rural corner of Chickasaw County home for 155 years.

It is a peaceful place. Occasionally, deer roam the lot of cut wood adjacent to the church. Behind the cemetery fence, the vines slowly pass a collection of retired tractors and implements.

The original church structure burned down sometime before World War II and was replaced by the current white-planked sanctuary soon after the war ended. Previously a United Methodist congregation, New Hope now identifies as non-denominational.

Brother. Steve Driskell is New Hope’s new pastor. The 52-year-old Brewer resident, whose wife grew up in nearby Boone’s Chapel Methodist Church, said the church, which has weathered so many storms and seen so much history, is almost definitely closed.

“I was told there were two people here on the Sunday before we started,” he said. “They were looking to close the doors.”

Now the doors of New Hope are thrown open every Sunday morning, welcoming an active congregation of 30-35 community members happy to see life return to their beloved church. Driskell said while the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a challenge, New Hope members were undeterred.

“The coronavirus hit us hard, but we got through it pretty well,” he said. “Members are loyal and we have held outdoor services in the parking lot for some time. We continued.

The exterior of the church remains much as it would have looked when it was built in the mid-20th century. But step inside, and New Hope seems to radiate just that: new hope.

Walls are freshly painted, new benches and light fixtures brighten the sanctuary, and a cheery classroom for the kids flanks the kitchen/dining room, where a fresh pot of coffee fills the air with its scent.

Although Driskell seems comfortable in his role, he is a newly appointed pastor and this is his first church. After responding to a call to preach later in life and filling pulpits in the area as needed, he and his wife were called to New Hope.

Driskell continues to work full time, but somehow finds the time to prepare sermons and meet the needs of his small but growing congregation. He said he loved being able to build relationships he never could as a supply preacher.

“There are so many connections,” he said. “I could never have that as a pulpit reserve. That makes all the difference. When I look outside on Sunday mornings and call these people my brothers and sisters, I mean it from the bottom of my heart, because we grew up together.

Driskell said he and the members of New Hope work hard to let their community know they are alive and vibrant.

“We had a wild game banquet in March,” he said. “We had a trunk or treat event here for Halloween. Last summer we had a vacation Bible school. Someone said this was the first VBS they had here in 32 years. We want to open our doors to everyone.

Tasked with breathing new life into a struggling country church, Driskell said he was happy in his role, but humbled by its seriousness.

“We are as happy as can be,” he said. “I never wonder if it was the right thing to do, but there are times when I feel inadequate as a pastor. The last thing I want to do is lead someone astray.

Driskell said he understands the appeal of the big church, but he thinks small country churches like New Hope will continue to play a vital role in shaping the faith of worshipers for years to come.

“Small country churches are still the backbone of today’s Bible belt,” he said. “We’re not trying to be the big church; we’re just trying to be a God-fearing, Christ-believing, preaching, and teaching church. That’s what we want.


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