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.


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