Stephen and Holly Sparks have been in Indianola for eight years.
That may not seem like an incredibly long time to many, but it's almost unheard of for a United Methodist pastor.
The pastors in the United Methodist Church have their membership in the conference and not the local church, and they are sent by their bishop. Many times pastors are moved as often as every couple of years.
The Sparks, as well as their three children - Andrew (10), Anna Claire (8) and Amelia Rae (7) - have become an incredibly important part of the community in Indianola in the last eight years.
Later this month, they will depart for a new chapter in north Mississippi in Olive Branch.
A lot of things can be done in an eight-year span, and the pastor talked about the many accomplishments during his time here, which included the building of Bailey Hall, doing a sanctuary renovation and purchasing and renovating the space for a full-time daycare for children 6 weeks to 3 years.
The daycare went to full occupancy within six months and now has a 20+ waiting list.
Another project that he and the church are proud of is the contemporary service, The Vine.
“This is a service where you can drink your coffee, eat your doughnut and come in your flip-flops and shorts,” Stephen Sparks said.
They've had worship nights that focused on children and youth, but they also have kept their 9 a.m. Communion service and 11 a.m. traditional service.
Holly Sparks has also been heavily involved in the community and not just as the typical “pastor's wife.”
When they moved here she had a background in the medical field and started at what is now Indianola Rehab part-time and worked her way up to the Director of Nursing there. She was there for a total of four years before taking her position as Chief Clinical Officer at South Sunflower County Hospital.
While at South Sunflower, she has had the opportunity to lead the swing bed unit project from the ground up. She worked hard to help make South Sunflower the third hospital in the state of Mississippi to be designated “Baby Friendly.”
“I've poured a lot of my heart and sweat into that hospital,” she said. “It is one of the hardest parts for me of leaving.”
Holly Sparks explained that the hospital knew she was “the Methodist minister's wife” and as such a move would come one day, but that did not make it any less devastating when she told them the news.
South Sunflower had not found her replacement at the time of our interview, though they hoped to find someone quickly to give that person the opportunity to train with her before the family’s departure later this month.
Holly Sparks has had her second interview with a north Mississippi hospital, where she hopes to work once they move.
The Sparks have not been the only ones affected by the community though.
They have three children who have become a part of the community as well.
Andrew, who is 10, almost 11 is a “Delta boy,” Stephen Sparks said, “and my two girls are Delta girls... to the hilt. We will always be connected to here to a certain extent because of that.”
There were many good things during their time here, but Stephen also mentioned the tragedies.
He has performed over 60 funerals while he's been here, including Allen Bailey, who was an icon in Indianola for 34 years and known as the “Pope of Sunflower County.”
He also performed John Brindley's funeral, who the Brindley Theatre is named after. Brindley was the choir director at First United Methodist Church and a dear friend to Stephen, he said.
One of Stephen's favorite parts of living here has been going to the ball field to watch his kids play and having other children run up to him calling, “Hey Preacher!”
Holly Sparks said though the family was not from the region, they never felt like strangers.
“It was wonderful to be able to move as an outside family to the Delta, which reminds me of home, and have the people accept us as family,” she said. “We have truly felt that while we have been here. From the way that people have treated us at church to the way the community has treated me and my family to the way I've been treated at work. We have been accepted as a part of this Delta family in a way that I've never felt in any other appointment we've been in.”
When asked how they felt about the upcoming move, Holly Sparks said, “There is excitement. There is new community, a different way of doing things. It's not the Delta, which is very unique, so there is excitement. The kids have actually handled it much better than me I believe,” she laughed. They are of course so sad to leave all their friends and don't understand all those feelings yet, but there is much excitement about the transition.”
The Sparks will depart Indianola on June 26.