Wednesday, January 11, 2023

2022: The Year in Review

Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

 2022: The Year in Pictures

God has given Baptist Temple many good and perfect gifts in 2022. The largest of these was a grant of $653,668 to help our Early Learning Center with the labor shortage and pandemic-related losses, thus enabling us to continue our vital service to the community. The grant was a result of federal funding provided to answer the national childcare crisis which has threatened to leave 6.5 million U.S. families without stable childcare. Once again, the Baptist Temple Early Learning Center has stepped up to meet a community need.

Often, God’s gifts come as people. Our new daycare director, Lakita Oats, brought 14 years’ experience and an MA in early childhood education combined with a passion for service and a desire to be used by God. Her cheerful countenance and steady leadership have kept us moving forward through troubled times.

Sometimes, God’s gifts come disguised as trouble. When the Early Learning Center’s van was stolen and vandalized this fall, several folks responded financially (including one large gift of $30,000) to help us recover. Most of the contributions came from strangers who learned of our plight on the news. While it is sad that there are people who would perpetrate such a senseless act of destruction, it became an occasion for joy as God demonstrated His provision. “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”

More financial blessings came from the Charity Ball Association ($110,000) and the Baptist Health Foundation ($118,000) to help renovate the gym. Over the last ten years, the gym has been used more than ever before. Jubilee uses it during the day, youth basketball teams practice at night, and adult recreation groups use it on the weekends. That’s a lot of wear and tear. Work has already begun and will include the floor, lights, staircase, locker rooms and bathrooms.

The gym renovation is not the only maintenance task we undertook in 2022. The roof of the Brunnemann Building had to be replaced after it started leaking, we changed all the exterior locks on the campus, and a SAGE grant (San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside) helped us to replace more exterior windows.

God is a wise investor. The servant who invested the master’s money received more. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

The fellowship hall looks more cheerful now with the replacement of our worn-out chairs. The new chairs are blue and are made of more durable materials. The Baptist Student Missions group from Baylor assembled the chairs while on a mission trip to San Antonio. They also painted the exterior of the Fritz Building.

Another mission team, the middle school choir from FBC Garland, stayed at BT this summer and ministered throughout San Antonio. They sang at a senior center and our Tuesday night community meal, distributed flyers and sorted food at the San Antonio Food Bank.

Fighting hunger is Baptist Temple’s most visible community ministry. Each Tuesday night and one Sunday a month, we provide a free meal to all who come. Our food pantry provided groceries for 4608 people in 2022. This is made possible by the generosity of Woodland Baptist Church, the Fellowship of San Antonio, San Antonio District 3 Councilwoman (Phyllis Viagran), Jubilee Highland Park Academy, the San Antonio Food Bank, Daily Bread Ministries, funding from the BGCT World Hunger Offering and the SABA hunger walk, and individual food donations.

We enjoyed four worship concerts throughout the year. The Southern Plainsmen, Westward Road, Don Wallace, and Simply Blessed communicated the gospel through music, while providing an occasion to invite new folks to our church. A fellowship meal helped to create bonds of friendship in an atmosphere of welcome.

This year we said goodbye to The Message Church and Rise Above Ministries but welcomed three new churches to our campus. One Voice Praise and Worship meet at one PM on Sunday in the main sanctuary and the Spanish-language church they sponsor meets at five PM. World Healing Church meets on Saturday evenings at six.

As the new year began, an eighth church joined our family. Casa de Oracion has begun to meet Sundays at 3 PM in the chapel. With Family Deaf Church, New Direction and Sunny Slope Baptist church and our new congregations the Baptist Temple Campus displays a diversity rarely witnessed in the American church.

The recovery from the COVID disruption continues. We have made a lot of progress but there is still room for growth. The community garden and Fritz Building are underutilized ministry assets. Our worship numbers remain 30% below the pre-COVID days but God is still at work. New people are coming every week. Increasing our efforts at discipleship continues to be the key to kingdom success.

 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added to you.
Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about its own things.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:33-34

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Community Ministry Era

Rose Flynn helps a person seeking groceries.


Community ministry is part of Baptist Temple’s DNA. The church’s involvement dates to the Great Depression when food, clothes and medications were brought to the homeless camp near the church. Even before then, the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) had always been active in local ministry actions. Furthermore, Community ministry ran parallel to the recreation ministries of the Church Recreation Era. The medical clinical and methadone program stand out prominently during these years.

As church attendance declined and the community changed, staff reductions became necessary. Ministries that focused on recreation and life stages were reduced to part time or combined with core staff positions such as Associate Pastor or Minister of Music.

What marks the Community Ministry Era as distinct, is the way it dominated the conversation and the budget of Baptist Temple from 1995 to 2020. Beginning with the pastorate of Mark Newton, in 1995, there was a marked decline in the interest of sports. Subsequently, the ballpark and Pipe Creek properties went up for sale. Although, Young in Heart was still active, the numbers were down and most of the seniors that were “coming of age” were more interested in serving opportunities than in sightseeing.

There had always been a struggle between those who looked at the church to provide member services and those who wanted to reach out to the community. Early victories by the “member services group” were gained with the closure of the TOUCH methadone clinic (1974-1984) and Fighting Back (1991-98) but the community ministry voices were growing stronger.

In 1998, Newton launched the Going Beyond These Walls campaign; an effort to encourage church members to engage with ministry in the community. Among the highlighted ministries at the time were the Christian Women’s Job Corps, Community Homeless Street Ministry, Habitat for Humanity, and the Prison Ministry. One lasting result was that two Habitat for Humanity homes were built in 2000 and 2001.

Community Ministry received another boost in 2006, when ten percent of the money received from the Pipe Creek property sale was set aside for missions. Suddenly, the Community Ministry Committee seemed to be continually at work with projects that included Highland Park Elementary School, Southeast food pantry, Grace House, Fall Festival, the Christian Women’s Job Corps, and more. People would rally whenever a community ministry event was announced.

However, most of these efforts took place off campus. Our centrally located, 80,000 square foot campus on nearly three acres, was eerily quiet during the week. I wondered, “If the church buildings were to disappear overnight, who would miss them?” 

I also wondered, “How can we make this campus an asset to the community? A lighthouse shining God’s light to our neighbors?”

We were able to make some easy changes right away. We had a three-story education building that lay dormant all week. Jubilee Academy quickly filled it with a charter school. Soon, our daycare was accepting vouchers so that children from our neighborhood could attend one of the best daycares in the Southside. Plus, we added after school care. The gym was another underutilized asset but now, the school uses it during the day and a growing number of community recreation groups use it at night.

Taking advantage of a grant offered by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, we hired Wesley Craig to be Baptist Temple’s first Minister of Missions in 2009. His job was to organize the many great ideas that were floating around, channel the tremendous energy generated by the zeal for community ministries, and liaison with the many local, state and national organizations with whom we could partner.

Craig arranged for the San Antonio Food Bank mobile food pantry to come to Baptist Temple once a month and provide shopping cart loads of groceries to over 200 people. We also became among the first San Antonio churches to become a Summer Feeding site for the Food Bank. Summer ministry interns and mission teams would provide a free summer day camp that was organized around the free lunch.

The building at 850 E. Drexel had been unused since 1998. It had been considered for ministry use from time to time, but the cost seemed too high. In 2011, God laid it on the hearts of Baptist Temple’s members to remodel the property for ministry use. Money, labor and material were donated by young and old, and the Max Brunnemann Building was dedicated that Fall. It would house the thrift store, food pantry and community garden.

Sharing space was another way for Baptist Temple to serve the community. Sixteen churches have worshiped on the Baptist Temple Campus over the past decade. Along with churches a variety of organizations have delivered needed services as well. From school supplies, to parenting classes, to funerals, the Baptist Temple Campus has become a support hub, providing for the physical and spiritual needs of our under-resourced community.

When the need to replace the playground arose, we decided to make it inclusive. That way children with disabilities would be able to play with children of typical abilities, helping them to overcome the isolation that can be more painful than the physical limitations. We were able to create a playground worth a quarter million dollars with the help of our partners and friends.

Partners and friends helped us to purchase and remodel a house adjacent to the church. Short-term mission volunteers stay at the house and serve the community in a variety of ways, usually working with children.

We are currently in the process of overhauling the gym. It remains an important resource to our community, teaching youth to develop a lifestyle that embraces healthy habits and helping adults fight obesity and its related diseases. Once again, our partners and friends have helped us to be a blessing to our neighbors.

Prior to the disruption of the pandemic, we had over 1000 folks on the campus each day. If the buildings were to disappear overnight, they would be missed by many. By God’s grace Baptist Temple entered the 21st Century as a beacon to this community. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16


Friday, December 23, 2022

The Church Recreation Era

Forrest Smith served as Baptist Temple's 
first Minister of Activities (1967-75)

A leisure culture emerged among middle class, baby boomers who were enjoying a level of affluence not experienced by their parents or grandparents. Churches in America quickly responded to this phenomenon and the Church Recreation Era was born. The idea was to meet church members’ needs and, at the same time, reach the lost. In the church recreation leagues that were formed across the nation, one had to have attended Sunday School the week of a game. Coaches were known to pick up kids on Sunday mornings to ensure enough eligible players at game time.


The Church Recreation Era at Baptist Temple began with the pastorate of Loren White in 1964. That same year the Baptist Sunday School Board held the first RecLab. This annual conference attracted leaders from across the country and across denominations to improve their game, sports, drama, banquet, and related skills. God had put the same idea in churches everywhere.


Prior to White's arrival, plans were already underway to construct a Family Life Center at Baptist Temple. This four-story structure would be Baptist Temple's largest building and would include a gym and men’s and women’s locker rooms. Upon the building’s completion in 1967, Forrest Smith (1967-75) was hired to be the church's Minister of Activities. Among the many programs begun during Smith's tenure were classes in sewing, ceramics, photography and chess. There was an annual kite-flying contest and regular bike rides, as well.


Sports were always a big deal at Baptist Temple. The oldest softball trophy on the Baptist Temple mantle was won in 1936. Frank Nelson coached that team. However, the fervor of sports went up several notches in the seventies. The women's softball team won the San Antonio Sunday School Athletic Association championship five times between 1973 and 1978. Their coach, Pete Burton, ran a tight ship. Each week during the season there would be a pair of two-hour practices and a game. The next coach, Gene Pennington, would lead the women to four more championships in 1989, '90, '96, and '97.


While softball was the biggest sport at Baptist Temple, there were seven teams in 1973, it was not the only one. There were also seven basketball teams that year. Other gym sports included volleyball, karate, and tee ball. The sports ministry continued to expand with the 1980 purchase of a 4.8-acre ballpark on the corner of Drexel and Clark, a mile from the church.


The performing arts also blossomed during this era. The youth choir, Now Sounds, was directed by Minister of Youth and Education, D. Ray Taylor (1970-77). The 117-member group performed musicals such as Who Is My Neighbor? and Celebrate Life at churches and other venues. There were choirs for children and seniors, a men's quartet, handbells and, of course, the large sanctuary choir.


The spotlight shined brighter in 1981 when Mary Ann Stephens introduced dinner theater to Baptist Temple. A musical of Lottie Moon’s life was presented for two nights to raise funds for the annual foreign missions drive. Other plays would follow.


Senior adults were not left out of the Church Recreation Era. In 1974, Ralph Dodd (1974-81) was hired to be Minister of Senior Adults. His challenge was to organize ministry to and through the 350 folks who were 65+ at Baptist Temple. He was among the first in the Southern Baptist Convention to hold this position.


Baptist Temple seniors would travel to tourist venues as far as New England and Washington State. The third Tuesday luncheon began in 1976 and would feature entertainment from local musicians. In its early years attendance would usually be over 100.


The reality of the Era's decline was made clear after the acquisition of the Pipe Creek Racket Club in 1991. The eight-acre property, valued at nearly $1 million, was a gift from Alton and Winnie Newell. An hour's drive from the church, the Pipe Creek Christian Retreat Center was envisioned as a retreat and recreation venue that would pay for itself through user fees. Despite enthusiastic member support and hours of hard work, Pipe Creek became a burden.


Pipe Creek was sold in 2006 and the ballpark in 2001 but the end of Baptist Temple's Church Recreation Era coincided with the end of Bill Purdue's pastorate in 1994. In its 30 years, the era had yielded 1680 baptisms.


The Era’s legacy continues today through the weekly ceramics’ ministry and the gym, which is used seven days a week by multiple groups. Baptist Temple has raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars to renovate the gym which continues to serve as a community asset.