Virginia “Ginny” Griesse

Virginia “Ginny” Griesse passed away Thursday, September 9, 2021 in Arnold, Missouri. She is the mother of Rev. Jonathan Griesse, pastor at Cornerstone United Methodist Church, Jonesboro. Ginny spent over 50 years working as an educator. Her passion for music and writing led her to compose numerous songs, skits, and musicals that she shared during her 25 years in children’s ministry. She also published several songbooks and children’s novels. A special memorial celebration is planned for Friday, Sept. 17 at Christian Outreach Church where she and husband Bob faithfully worshipped and served for 44 years.

Notes of condolence can be sent to:
Reverend Jonathan Griesse
108 Gulley Drive
Brookland, AR 72417

Young Leaders Engage in Service and Civil Rights Learning at 2021 Hendrix Youth Institute

Young Leaders Engage in Service and Civil Rights Learning at 2021 Hendrix Youth Institute

HYI Birmingham

Young leaders in the Hendrix Youth Institute is an annual service trip for Hendrix students. One of the stops on this year’s trip was in Birmingham, Alabama to assist low-income residents in that area.

Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen

HYI Project Director and Director of the Center for Calling & Christian Leadership

My journal on June 28, 2021 read:  

“Thirty-six hours out from the end of this year’s Hendrix Youth Institute and I’m still awestruck. I’m awestruck by this insightful and kindhearted group of young people. I’m grateful for their willingness to confront histories and present realities of racial injustice in our country’s past and present, and by the spirit of grace and truth among them as we engaged in hard conversations about what it means to be white people of faith in the midst of these realities. I’m amazed by their hearts of service, and the ways in which they bear witness to the Gospel.” 

Nearly two months later, I’m still in awe.

Hendrix Youth Institute is a two-week high school program for high school juniors and seniors in Arkansas who are exploring a call to ministry. After COVID-19 cancellations in 2020 and delays in decision-making and planning in early 2021, the planning staff — which included me and Rev. Ellen Alston, Hendrix College Chaplain — and mentor supervisor — Miranda Donakey, a current seminarian — were grateful for the opportunity to host nine high school students and three college staff as part of this summer’s program. Below are reflections from three of our participants: Marleigh Hayes (Mt. Sequoyah UMC), Jeb Mathis (Greenbrier FUMC), and Julia Staggs (Sardis UMC). I suspect and pray you will also experience awe as you read them. 

-Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen, HYI Project Director and Director of the Center for Calling & Christian Leadership

Marleigh Hayes

On my first mission trip, I was told that God sends us where His heart is the most broken, and I’ve never felt that statement more evidently in my life than this past June. 

Luckily, I was able to return to Hendrix Youth Institute 2021 with an encouraging group of youth and mentors. During these two weeks, our eyes were opened to the very real, heartbreaking circumstances both in the church and in the world. The first week on campus, we heard from a panel of pastors from across the state who shared their perspectives on the injustices in the world and church today. Over the past year, I have felt emotions about the state of the church and the world that I have not been able to relate with others about. After listening to the laments of these four pastors, my struggles and concerns felt seen and comforted, and my call to ministry was affirmed. The vulnerability shared during this conversation meant a lot to my peers and me, and gave us a perspective as we traveled to Birmingham to dive deeper into mission and many current social justice issues, especially racism.

In Alabama, we learned many things that were tough but necessary to hear. One of the most impactful moments for me was simply walking around the city of Montgomery, thinking about the history and significance of where we stood. We stood in the Legacy Museum, formerly used to hold slaves between their time of arrival from the sea and the moment of their auctioning. As a privileged white person in America walking where slaves walked, I felt a heavy sense of guilt and remorse. We also visited museums and memorials where we learned about another side of history, including the evolution from slavery to lynching and mass incarceration. Although the experience was heavy, I am so grateful to be more informed about our nation’s history so that I can use that knowledge to make greater change in the future. This experience made me feel more confident in my call to be a Deacon in the United Methodist Church, so that I can further connect the church with justice issues that need our action.

Jeb Mathis

We learned and observed so much during HYI 2021. These weeks are designed for us to discern our call to ministry, and I think I speak for all of us when I say that this experience made a significant impact. I know that whatever my ministry becomes in the future, I am not the same person I was before HYI. 

There were many meaningful parts of HYI to me, including: 

  • Morning reflections that positively began each day, and all of the worship services that helped us praise and give thanks to God;
  • All of the museums that we visited helped educate us and help us not forget the past, but learn it so that we may have the opportunity to move forward;
  • Small group meetings in which we had meaningful and thought-provoking conversations and bonded with each other;
  • Working at Canvas Community where we served our homeless friends and had the opportunity to connect with them;
  • Working at Urban Ministry in Alabama and painting rooms that will someday educate children, and painting Ms. Theresa’s house and seeing her priceless reaction;
  • The church service at Community Church Without Walls, which was such an influential environment and felt like home for so many people.

Overall, the most impactful part of the experience was the relationships built. On the first day of HYI, I was hesitant and worried that this was going to be a difficult two weeks. But God works in mysterious ways and changed my mind, making these two of the best weeks of my life. I am so grateful to my fellow participants for their presence, and your awe-inspiring words and actions. We formed friendships that I hope will last my lifetime. I am grateful to the staff for everything they did for me, and for all of us—planning and working relentlessly so that we could have a worthwhile experience. 

Julia Staggs

I walked into HYI thinking I would figure out my call to ministry. Little did I know, I’d leave with an entirely different understanding of callings, a fire for Jesus and his mission on earth, friends to last a lifetime, and a broader perspective of what it means to not only be Christian but human as well. 

We met and interacted with so many people of so many backgrounds, and we served and loved, and were served and loved as well. The Urban Ministry Center provided a well-needed reminder of the true mission of the church — to glorify God through true service and love. The people and organizations we were able to interact with provided some of the greatest examples of what it means to love your neighbor that I’ve ever seen. 

As I got to know and love so many different people, it was put on my heart again and again that we are all beautifully and immensely human. This mindset has continued to help me in my faith and ministry at home. Hendrix Youth Institute and the many experiences, friendships, and lessons it brought me have helped me to grow in faith and my expectations of ministry in ways I will forever be thankful for.”

Learn more about HYI at @hdxyouthinstitute and at 

Information about HYI 2022 coming soon!

WMC Names Bishop Yambasu as Recipient of 2020 World Methodist Peace Award

The World Methodist Council (WMC) has named the late Bishop John K. Yambasu as the recipient of the World Methodist Peace Award for 2020. Bishop Yambasu served as The United Methodist Church (UMC) resident bishop of Sierra Leone until his untimely death in August of 2020.

“This Award is given annually by the World Methodist Council to individuals or organizations who have contributed significantly to peace, justice and reconciliation,” WMC General Secretary Ivan Bishop Abrahams said when he made the announcement today.

“The Peace Award is the highest honor of the World Methodist Council,” Bishop Abrahams explains. The criteria for the Peace Award are courage, creativity and consistency in one’s witness to peace, justice and reconciliation. Previous recipients of the award include, among others, Presidents Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, Nelson Mandela, Boris Trajkovsky (Macedonia), Father Elias Chacour, The Community of St. Egidio (Rome) and the Grandmothers of the Plaza De Mayo (Argentina).

WMC also announced that the 2021 Award recipient was The Rev. Olav Pärnamets, a Methodist clergy of Estonia. The recipients were chosen at the Council’s Steering Committee meeting held in August. The Committee did not choose a recipient last year, so both the 2020 and 2021 recipients were named this year as the Committee met virtually.

“In the last year or so, many United Methodists, especially in the US, think of Bishop Yambasu’s work as related to the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace through Separation, but this award highlights a lifetime of active peace work for the most vulnerable in his country.  Bishop Yambasu demonstrates how peace-making is discipleship at its best,” Bishop Sally Dyck, the Council of Bishops Ecumenical Officer.

Bishop John K. Yambasu, who died August 16, 2020, in a road accident, was chosen for being a courageous peacemaker in his home country of Sierra Leone and across the United Methodist connection for many years. He provided critical leadership during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and the 2017 mud landslide, both of which killed thousands of his fellow citizens. He was known for choosing to speak truth, even in difficult situations, while at the same time living peaceably with all people and was a role model to the United Methodists in Africa and across the connection, his nomination stated.

Bishop Yambasu grew up in poverty and is quoted as having said, “I know through and through what poverty is. I have slept with it and I have woken to it. Countless times, I went to bed without food. I have not only experienced poverty, but for almost ten years I had to wrestle with it. Today in Sierra Leone, I live side by side with poverty and misery.” He then said, “I am totally fed up!…We need to embrace each other” Red and yellow, black and white, poor and rich, have and have-nots, gay or straight, bisexual or homosexual, polygamists, we all need to engage each other… We need to torment God with our prayers and give us sleepless nights until we can look at each other in the face and say, ‘We are brothers and we are sisters’.”

Bishop Yambasu was creative in thought and action and was consistent throughout his life. He served the people around him as the focus of his call to ministry. He was a leader in the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, the Ebola crisis, and COVID-19 pandemic. He was a teacher to young people, founder of the Child Rescue Center, and shortly before his death in an automobile accident, was elected Chancellor of Africa University.

His nominees said that Bishop Yambasu was a man of peace: peace for those living with illness, peace for children struggling in poverty, peace across nations and continents. He exemplified the best in Christian peacemaking.

Rev. Pärnamets of Estonia who will receive the 2021 Peace Award has been saluted for his work on world peace, beginning with Europe in the second half of the 20th century. The tiny Baltic country of Estonia enjoyed less than a quarter of a century as a free republic during the first half of the 20th century. Still, during that time, the Methodist Church planted roots and grew.

Born in 1937, Rev. Pärnamets spent most of his childhood and adult ministry under the strict and oppressive control of the Soviet Union, his nominees explain. Yet, this man served as a pastor and district superintendent, displaying great courage when the government of Estonia oppressed those who even participated in religious activity. Worship, theological study and evangelical activities were suppressed with the threat of punishment. But he traveled the world to share about the faithfulness of the people called Methodists in this Baltic country.

One of Rev. Pärnamets greatest strengths is creativity. With little to no money and Big Brother watching, he led by faith, and his unique ability to bring together people from different cultures, nations and backgrounds is evident in the vital Estonian church.

The dates for the presentation of the 2020 and 2021 Peace Award recipients will be announced later.

Media Contact:

Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications
Council of Bishops – The United Methodist Church
110 Maryland Ave. NE  # 301
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 748-5172

Obituary – Rev. John O. Alston

Obituary – Rev. John O. Alston

Rev. John O. Alston

John Overton Alston, a United Methodist minister, died peacefully Friday, August 27, 2021, with family at his side. He was born February 23, 1931, in Mena, Arkansas, to the late Overton Bettis Alston and Alice Pearl Williams Alston. He was preceded in death by his brother Maurice Edward Alston of Shreveport, Louisiana, and his sister Helen Marie Wallace of Lebanon, New Hampshire.

John grew up appreciating what little he had. Food came from the family’s meager farm. A horse was extravagant transportation, but it sure beat walking in his one pair of shoes. The television wasn’t in the living room – it was in the window of the local general goods store; the house lacked electricity, and the closest radio was far down the dirt road. After his father became an amputee, John, being the youngest, was the only one left at home to help his mother around the farm once his brother joined the Air Force and his sister married. His humble beginnings and commitment to a Christ-centered life meant he never yearned for material things. He appreciated people more than things, he was always willing to help those in need, and he had a special place in his heart for those who lived life to the fullest with little in the way of worldly possessions.

John graduated from Acorn High School (Mena), Hendrix College (Conway), and Perkins School of Theology, SMU (Dallas, Texas). Following high school, he enlisted in the Army Reserve National Guard, drove a Coca-Cola delivery route, and worked in a newspaper office in Mena. His Polk County Guard unit was activated for duty in Korea during 1950-51. (After cruises to and from Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam, John never developed a love of the sea nor the desire to experience another cruise.) Upon return, he was the first veteran of the Korean Conflict to enroll as a student at Hendrix. As students entered the college cafeteria, John was known for being able to address each one by name. His budding call to ministry was nurtured through the “pre-the” (pre-theology) community on campus and “caravan” outreach trips off campus. He met the love of his life, Mildred Chapman from Louisiana, while they were both students at Perkins School of Theology; their first date was to an SMU basketball game, and they married in Cox Chapel at Highland Park Methodist Church in 1959. 

Together John and Milli lived and loved as he served pastoral appointments in Arkadelphia (Wesley Foundation); Malvern (Keith Memorial); Benton (Parkview Methodist); Lonoke; Smackover; DeQueen; DeWitt; Dumas; Pine Bluff (Wesley); Hamburg; Little Rock (Pulaski Heights, Associate Pastor); North Little Rock (Gardner Memorial); Hampstead and Upperco, Maryland (Shiloh and Mt. Zion); Lanham, Maryland; Shreveport, Louisiana (St. Luke’s, Interim Pastor); and North Little Rock (Gardner Memorial, Pastor Emeritus).

John was frugal with everything but his generosity, time, and love. From clipping coupons to cleaning the cake batter bowl, nothing went to waste. Socks with holes were still socks; hand-me-downs (or hand-me-ups) were favorites; the old whatever, as long as it worked, was new enough. When you had a conversation with him, you always knew you had his full attention. He related well to all ages through his care and compassion, quick wit, silly humor, ping-pong prowess, and occasional pranks. Friend to all, John always had a dad joke ready for the occasion. 

John drove countless miles over the years to support his children through piano, dance, scouting, and sports. He loved them dearly and everything they have become – committed Christians with strong family bonds. Ellen, Gayle and John all followed in his footsteps to Hendrix, and his daughters have both been called to church leadership and ministry. He beamed with pride when speaking of his son and his commitment to public service as a police officer and detective. John adored his grandchildren, was eager to share in their games, concerts, or other activities, and was glad when they visited to share time, stories, a meal, or premium chocolate bought at a discount after the most recent holiday.

John loved working crossword puzzles – in pen, never pencil. Anyone visiting the house would find the latest unfinished puzzle resting on a nearby end table with a ballpoint pen on top. Never one to boast of his mastery, he ensured completed puzzles quickly disappeared. When handwriting became more difficult, John switched to Mahjong on the iPad with the same tenacity and precision. 

By far, John’s favorite activity was keeping up with family and friends. Sunday afternoons and unfilled evenings were spent maintaining those connections until he became unable to do so. He talked on the phone as much as a teenager. He cherished gatherings like the Alston Family Reunion on Rich Mountain. He appreciated the outdoors, especially state and national parks, and he loved sharing the places he loved with people he loved. He had worked one summer as a student minister at Glacier National Park, and forty years later took a trip with extended family to revisit breathtaking landscapes, as well as the site of his once getting “stuck” overnight across the Canadian border. 

Now having crossed the boundary from earth to the great beyond, John’s gentle spirit will live on in all whose lives he touched. The words that keep coming up as loved ones speak of him are “kind,” “full of peace,” “funny,” and “one of a kind.” Mere words cannot fully describe the gift of his life, and the impact of his living and loving will continue to transcend his earthly frame and the years it has been such a privilege to share with him. 

John is survived by his wife of 62½ years Mildred “Milli” Alston; children Ellen Alston, Gayle (and son-in-law Tad) Bohannon, and John M. Alston; grandchildren Nathaniel Dauphin, Spencer Bohannon, Caleb Alston, Carson Alston, Claire Alston, and Corbin Alston; in-laws, and a host of nieces and nephews. 

The family would like to extend deepest gratitude to the committed and capable staffs of UAMS Hospital, St. Vincent Rehab Hospital, Lakewood Health and Rehab, and Hospice Home Care for the attentive care and genuine concern shown to John and his family throughout these last few weeks. 

A service celebrating his life will be held at 11:00am, Friday, September 3, 2021, at Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church in North Little Rock. The family will receive guests beginning at 10:00am.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be directed to Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church (1723 Schaer St., North Little Rock, AR. 72114,  501-374-9520 or Hendrix College (1600 Washington Ave, Conway, AR 72032, 501-450-1223

Obituary – Rev. Dr. James R. Bell

Rev. James R. Bell, 1930 – 2021

Dr. James R. Bell of White Hall, Ark., passed away in his home on Saturday, August 21, 2021, at the age of 91. He was surrounded by his youngest daughter, Kandice, middle daughter, Kimbra, oldest child, Bruce, and his devoted wife of 60 years, Josephine. Dr. Bell made a peaceful transition to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ where he will join in Heaven his mother, Cassie, and his father, Fred.

Dr. Bell was born and raised in Helena, Phillips County, Ark. Dr. Bell was a professor emeritus and director of the Learning Resources Center, now relocated and renamed the Dr. James R. Bell Learning Resources Center on the second floor of the Watson Memorial Library at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Dr. Bell enjoyed fishing, photography, technology, UAPB football and basketball, and especially the Arkansas Razorback basketball team under the head coach Nolan Richardson. He loved Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. where he was a lifetime member and served in various capacities in the Pine Bluff Alumni Chapter. Dr. Bell was a dedicated church member at St. Luke United Methodist. He served as a trustee and leader in many roles at his home church and other churches over which he led as pastor in Little Rock, Hensley, and Pine Bluff. Dr. Bell is survived by his wife and three children, as well his grandchildren, Kristin and Kamryn (Bruce) and Sam, Jr. and Alexandria (Kimbra).

Dr. James R. Bell had a humble spirit and way about himself, a heart full of generosity, and was a giant of a resource to his family, friends, and community. The Memorial service of Dr. James Robert Bell is this Saturday, August 28, 2021, at 11 a.m. at St. Luke United Methodist Church, 32 School Street, Pine Bluff, Ark., 71602.

Masks are required upon entry into the church and must be worn properly throughout the entire service, and there will be no exceptions.

The services may also be viewed at the following link:
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 828 8242 2870
Passcode: 123

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider contributing to Dr. Bell and his wife’s scholarship fund, entitled the Dr. James R. and Dr. Josephine C. Bell Scholarship Fund. You can make an online gift:; place mouse on “Giving Tab” at top of screen; click “Make a Gift;” and complete form. All major credit cards are accepted.

Mail check/money order to: University of Ark., at Pine Bluff Office of Development, Mail Slot 4981, Pine Bluff, Ark., 71601. Be sure to include the name of his scholarship fund on the memo line of your check or with your online donation. You may also call the Development Office directly: (870) 575-8701.