Back Bay Mission Hosts ‘Make Good Trouble’ Conference

The Back Bay Mission campus in Biloxi, Miss.

Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Miss., takes seriously its mission to strengthen neighborhoods, seek justice and transform lives through programs in education, empowerment, housing rehabilitation, and more. Continuing the spirit of celebration that marked the 100th anniversary of the organization in 2022, the ‘Making Good Trouble’ Conference was held May 4-7, 2023.

The conference brought local and national experts on social equity issues to attendees. “As a nod to John Lewis and his work in the social and political arenas, we used his theme of ‘Good Trouble, Necessary Trouble’ throughout the conference to lift up the intersectionality of environmental justice, the need for connection and inclusion, and the role the progressive church can play,” said the Rev. James Pennington, Back Bay’s executive director.

Part of delivering that progressive message was a closing worship service on Sunday, May 7. The service included the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president, delivering the sermon, along with several UCC leaders helping to lead worship and reflections afterwards. Since 1974, Back Bay has been the only UCC voice on the Gulf Coast, though thanks to Back Bay, UCC presence on the Gulf Coast goes back 100 years (including the UCC’s predecessor denominations).

The conference opened May 4 with a special presentation called “In Their Shoes.” The presentation gave attendees a look at what it’s like to come to Back Bay for help — a sobering examination of how being homeless impacts people’s lives. The day included a special ribbon cutting and anniversary celebration with the Back Bay community, board members, advisory council, and staff. “The most meaningful part was the impact the ‘In Your Shoes’ presentation makes on participants and what they bring back to their communities, friends and families,” said Laura Payne Breeland, Back Bay’s director of development. “We are hoping the messages grow bigger and expand to reach more individuals and start making a meaningful impact.”

Expanding its reach and impact was an ongoing theme throughout Back Bay’s 100th anniversary year. It increased media coverage of events as well as working with UCC churches and conferences, and community organizations like Chambers of Commerce and local businesses, to raise awareness. Additionally, it hosted three “Making Good Trouble” informational sessions before the conference.

“If any single thing has come to be known in these past few years, it is this: We desire connection. All of us. Connection feeds our souls and fuels our creativity,” said the Rev. Phil Hodson, conference minister of the UCC’s South Central Conference. “So much of our world, from the smallest family to the largest enterprise, is inter-connected. In the church, and industry, our ability to partner is key to crafting new solutions, mobilizing energy, and unleashing creativity. Simply put, we’re better together.”

Friday, May 5, was the “Making Good Trouble” Conference Day. Guest speakers included Dorhauer, Hodson and Pennington; Lauren Turner, owner and chef of Makin’ Groceries; Renee Collini, regional coastal environmental climate resilience specialist, program for local adaptation to climate effects, Mississippi State University; and Katherine Egland, director of the Education, Economics, Environmental, Climate, and Health Organization (EEECHO).

A highlight of the conference was a Back Bay Shrimp Boil at Shaggy’s in Biloxi.

The final event of the day was one of Back Bay’s famous Shrimp Boils, held at Shaggy’s on the Gulf Coast. Attendees were able to hear how the shrimp boils saved Back Bay Mission.

Following a morning breakfast and fellowship time, conference participants had the day of May 6 to enjoy the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The day ended with a sunset bonfire, complete with hot dogs and s’mores.

The conference concluded with the worship service Sunday morning, sending participants home filled with new information and inspiration to share with their local churches and communities. This worship was particularly noteworthy because it is the first UCC service on the Gulf Coast in 49 years, a point of significant pride for those gathered.

For Executive Director Pennington, the conference was a chance to amplify the UCC’s voice on the Gulf Coast as Back Bay Mission increases its work for social justice.

“Rep. John Lewis said, ‘Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble,’” said Pennington. “We stand on the shoulders of great individuals like John Lewis who created trouble — good trouble. May we be encouraged to be good troublemakers for the cause of equity, justice, and the liberation of all people.”

Making Good Trouble Retreat Materials

CHHSM President and CEO Jamar Doyle was on hand for the event reflected on Back Bay Mission afterward. “Since 1922, Back Bay Mission has been a fixture in the communities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Doyle. “It was a joy to be present to celebrate their centennial, learning about the ways they work with unsheltered and impoverished individuals to help them grow and thrive; people who are often overlooked, forgotten, and even despised in our society.  Their work is holy work, a meaningful expression of their faith and connection to the United Church of Christ.”

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