Hours after the Rev. William McAlilly, B.A. 1978, was elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church during the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference at Lake Junaluska, N.C. in July, a group of Millsaps College alumni joined in a special serenade.
They sang to the tune of the Millsaps Alma Mater these lyrics updated by Dr. R. Mark Matheny, B.A. 1968, senior minister at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Memphis:
Bishops borne of dear old Millsaps
Welcome Number Ten!
McAlilly is his name and
He knows where he's been.
Predecessors - they are many,
And they hail Bill's rise,
We shall join them in these moments,
Praise him to the skies!
Murrah, Harmon, Finger, Clark, McDavid and Clay Lee,
Swenson, Goodpastor and Whitaker,
Now, there's McAlilly!
We all join in singing proudly,
But we're humble, too,
For we travel in God's Grace
with Spirit work to do...
McAlilly, who most recently served as district superintendent of the Seashore District of the Mississippi Conference and was a key leader in rebuilding of churches and homes on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, is the ninth Millsaps graduate to be elected a bishop in the United Methodist Church.
He joins the list that includes Larry M. Goodpaster, B.A. 1970, bishop of the Charlotte (N.C.) Episcopal Area; Mary Ann McDonald Swenson, B.A. 1969, bishop of the California-Pacific Annual Conference; Timothy W. Whitaker, B.A. 1970, bishop of the Florida Episcopal Area; Clay F Lee, B.A. 1951, retired; the late Homer Ellis Finger; B.A. 1937; Roy C. Clark, B.A. 1941, retired; the late Nolan B. Harmon, B.A. 1914; and the late Joel D. McDavid, B.A. 1941.
William Belton Murrah, was "borne of dear ole Millsaps," having served as president of the College, but is not a Millsaps graduate. He graduated from Southern University in Greensboro, Ala., in 1874.
A second-generation United Methodist clergy member, McAlilly said his election was a confirmation of his gift for ministry. "It was an exciting moment to be chosen and recognized as someone who could lead the church," he said.
McAlilly has served as a pastor at small and large churches, led mission trips to foreign countries, worked with teens, mentored clergy and developed new congregations.
His appointments have included St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Madison (1994-2000) where the congregation doubled its membership and built a new sanctuary and office addition and First United Methodist Church in Tupelo (2000-2006) where the Helping Hands Ministry expanded its reach to 5,000 people annually and the congregation worked with Trinity United Methodist Church in Marks to create Delta Mission Partnership in Lambert.
McAlilliy said he had no idea when he was a student at Millsaps that his life's journey would including being named a bishop, but the College provided a sense of the world and prepared him to speak the words of redemption, hope and reconciliation. He names Dr. Lee Reiff, Dr. T.W. Lewis and Ed King as faculty members who made an impact on his life.
During his Millsaps days, McAllly played football and was among Kappa Sigma fraternity's three religion majors who formed a Bible study. "We called ourselves the God Squad," he said.
McAlilly received the Pendergrass Medal for Preaching while at Millsaps.
"I was the person who showed promise," he said. "It had nothing to do with preaching. Nobody ever preached a sermon as an undergraduate."
McAlilly is assigned to the Nashville Area, which includes middle and western Tennessee and Kentucky. He will live and work in Nashville, providing leadership and support to the 14 district superintendents.
McAlilly's father, Dr. Roy McAlilly attended Millsaps in 1952; his brother, Stephen McAllily earned a B.S. in 1977, and his sister, Deborah McAlilly Brangenberg earned a B.A. in 1973.
Leading Mississippi's 180,000-plus Methodists will be Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., who has served in eastern Tennessee since 2004. He is the first black bishop to shepherd Mississippi's United Methodist congregations. He replaces another trailblazer: Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, the first female leader of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Swanson will serve as a trustee of the College.