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.


Thursday, December 08, 2022

Revivalism at Baptist Temple

Jesse Yelvington baptizing one of
51 new believers following a 1937
revival meeting at Baptist Temple.
Three distinct eras stand out in the history of Baptist Temple. These periods of time reflect what God was doing in the American church across denominational lines. They are marked by specific related activities that dominated the conversations, filled the calendars, and attracted material resources.

The first and longest of these periods of time was the Revivalism Era. The group that became Baptist Temple began as a Bible study meeting in a home but exploded in growth with tent revivals led by San Antonio City Missionary and Evangelist Doc Pegues. One or two week tent revivals were a popular and effective way of communicating the gospel in America at the start of the 20th Century and the Baptist General Convention of Texas sent evangelists around the state to start new churches.

As Baptist Temple became an established church, it would host two-week revivals in the Spring and Fall, featuring evangelists who would preach lively sermons with emotional appeal. At the end people would be pressed for a public decision to follow Christ and be baptized. Many decisions were first time conversions and others were re-dedications. During the summer, Baptist Temple would often participate in city-wide crusades preached by an evangelist with national and, even, international fame. These included Gipsy Smith and Billy Graham. Many church members would not only enthusiastically support their own revivals but would, often, attend revivals in neighboring churches.

Four out of the first nine pastors of Baptist Temple were discovered while preaching a revival. Clive L. Skinner had recently preached a two-week revival at Baptist Temple that led to 41 baptism and his calling as their pastor. Pastors Albert Beddoe and Jesse Yelvington both left Baptist Temple to pursue full-time evangelism.

Revivals required a lot of work and preparation. Deacons were charged with selecting the evangelist and arranging for his room and board. They would vote on a long list of potential preachers. Before the revival, lists of prospects would be put together and visits were made. Advertising and posters played a big role but word of mouth and personal invitations were the keys to filling the auditorium. An offering would be taken each night and given to the preacher and his team.

Follow up was equally vital to the long-term impact of the revival. The deacons divided San Antonio onto four areas. Deacons living in those areas would visit those who had made decisions to enroll them in Sunday School and schedule their baptism.

Sunday school was the foundation for both the start and the phenomenal growth of Baptist Temple and Baptist churches in general. It was the primary disciple-making ministry of the church. It is where new believers were strengthened in their faith and future leaders were discovered.

Pastor Vernon Elmore marked the end of the Revival Era. He was a popular and effective evangelist to whom the church had granted four weeks off to preach revivals in other places. This was on top of vacation and convention time. By the end of his tenure revivals had gone from two weeks to one week, to a few days; from twice a year to once, to sporadic scheduling. Revivals would be replaced by event evangelism. Block parties (like Baptist Temple's Fall Festival) would become the new normal. Guest evangelists would be replaced by Christian musical groups and Sunday morning celebrity testimonies.

Block parties, Christian concerts, and Vacation Bible School are what remain of the 57 year Revivalism Era at Baptist Temple (1906-1963).

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Life in the Baptist Temple Office

Guest Blog by Muriel Persky

Mary Lee Shelton

Mary Lee Shelton began working full time at Baptist Temple Church in 1976 as Education Secretary to D. Ray Taylor, Minister of Education. O.D. Oliver was the Pastor. Her job was to keep the records of the Sunday School and Training Union memberships, and other secretarial duties. At that time the Sunday School membership was over 500 and all the offering envelopes needed to be counted before worship time each Sunday. The numbers were posted for the Church to view.

She was accepted right away by the other office staff. Kathryn O’Diem was the office manager, Jo Lynn was bookkeeper, and Louise Dudley was the pastor’s secretary. Each lady had responsibilities and a very busy schedule. The routine included weekly, never ending deadlines: Temple Times,Southside Reporter articles, bulletins, record keeping and more. At that time records were kept manually and typewriters were used for the printed articles. Mary Lee helped keep the financial giving records for each member; each entry done manually.

The office door was always open and visitors were welcome to visit and chat. Weekdays were busy with many meetings and church members engaged in variety of tasks, including the daycare, an active WMU program, the Seniors' Ministry, and TOUCH.

In 1979, Jo Lynn retired and Louise Dudley stepped into the bookkeeper position and Mary Lee became the pastor’s secretary. When Bill Perdue replaced Oliver as pastor, she continued as secretary. Her primary job was to answer the pastor's phone and type his sermons. The sermons were dictated into a machine (Dictaphone) and transcribed. Mary Lee also created an outline of the sermon. An extra touch appreciated by Purdue. She also typed Perdue's weekly column for the Southside Reporter weekly for publication.

Mary Lee was kept busy by three Together We Build capital campaigns that requires many mail-outs, meetings, program planning, and a big kick-off at the San Antonio Convention Center Auditorium. There was much hubbub during those years of building renovations. New offices were built and records moved. Moreover, the office staff had to adapt to the emerging computer age. Still, all ran smoothly among the office staff.

One of her fondest memories were the years of working with Philip and Mary Ann Stephens. Phillip came to the church in 1981 as Minister of Music. Mary Ann, not yet part of the staff, volunteered to produce a Christmas dinner theater presentation as a fund raiser for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. A musical of Lottie Moon’s life was presented for two nights.. The WMU took over the dinner planning, menus and decor. The office staff pitched in by making the playbills, copying materials for the cast, and aiding in whatever way needed. It was a wonderful celebration and dinner theater would be repeated each year for some time with different plays presented.

In 1991, Pipe Creek Retreat Center was given to the church and Mary Lee spent much of her time promoting the center to individuals and other churches while continuing her duties as pastor’s secretary and recording financial records of the membership.

In 1995, Mark Newton became our pastor and brought a new agenda for the church which included community ministry. Two Habitat for Humanity homes were built and other programs were started.

In 2001, she retired just shy of 25 years of service. Mary Lee's first job, as a teen, was working in the BT office. She worked 4 hrs a day at .65 cents an hour until she graduated from Brackenridge High School in 1956 and went to college. She started working at Baptist Temple and ended her career at Baptist Temple.