HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Pastor Bruce Case has returned to Hattiesburg.

Case, who was pastor at Court Street United Methodist Church from 2005-10 before moving to a church in Madison, is now pastor at Parkway Heights United Methodist Church.

"We were thrilled to find out we would be coming back to Hattiesburg," he said from his mildly messy office at the church. "We grew to love the area and we grew to love the people here."

Case only has been in residence at Parkway Heights for about three weeks, but his colleagues already know that he loves a good joke.

"He's funny," said Lesley Ellison, director of children and families at Parkway Heights. "He's warm and open and interested in people.

"There is excitement in the air. He's got a lot of energy and a lot of good ideas."

Case most recently spent seven years at Parkway Hills Church in Madison. In the Methodist system, the bishop has the final say on pastoral appointments, so he and his family have moved a lot.

Before his stint at Court Street, he led a storefront church in Palmer, Alaska, for four years.

"Alaska is the land of non-joiners — they didn't know what a Methodist was," Case said. "I did a lot of work in the Lions Club, getting to know the farmers.

"We rented out a storefront in downtown Palmer, and we'd see the moose walk by."

Case's first appointment was at a church in Meridian from 1997-2001. Parkway Heights is one of his biggest jobs yet — 1,200 members and multiple ministries ranging from collaborations with Woodley Elementary and Hattiesburg High to a medical and dental mission in Honduras.

"From across the street to across the globe, (this church) is very connected," Case said. "It spans generations from young families to the elderly.

"Maybe the neatest thing is not everybody thinks alike, and people here embrace that. You can concentrate on God's love instead of (trying to find) someone who's just like you."

Case said he knows he has challenges — No. 1 getting bodies in the pews.

"We're competing with a warm bed and a second cup of coffee," he said. "Parkway Heights does not have a monopoly (on parishioners).

"We all need to be different. One style, one approach does not work for everybody."

Case will start by opening his ears to his church members.

"The next few months I'm listening as hard as I can to hear from our people who we are and what are we called to do," he said. "Then I'll share that back with them.

"It's reminding our congregation of who they say they are and match that up to what we believe."

Associate pastor Susan Eaton believes Case will energetically lead the church in new directions.

"I think we're all excited about what the possibilities are for our church," she said. "With Bruce here, he's able to harness that energy and lead us forward in what we can do."

Case looks forward to the future at Parkway Heights.

"I'm very hopeful and optimistic about the church's next chapter," he said. "The next 10 years — what opportunities will it have?

"My job is to continue to help people serve the community and help people grow."

Case plans to help his congregation hear the voice of God and follow it.

"You continue to invest in people and people will discover their role in this world," he said. "I believe I'm called, and I know you're called.

"God has something for all of us to do. It's how do you match your unique gifts with people's needs."

At a glance

Bruce Case

Age: 47

City of residence: Oak Grove

Family: Wife, Jennifer; two children

Education: Bachelor's in Business Administration, Mississippi State; Master of Divinity, Duke University

Employment: Central United Methodist Church, Meridian, 1997-2001; Christ First United Methodist Church, Palmer, Alaska, 2001-05; Court Street United Methodist, Hattiesburg, 2005-10; Parkway Hills United Methodist Church, Madison, 2010-17; Parkway Heights United Methodist Church, 2017

Parkway Heights United Methodist Church

8:30 a.m. Sunday: Contemporary service with band

11 a.m. Sunday: Traditional service with choir

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com