When Mike Sutton was young, he had no desire to become a minister.
Sutton was raised by his great-grandfather — a preacher — and was aware of the poverty and hardship some pastors face. He dreamed of becoming a counselor and a teacher.
However, by age 20, God called him into the ministry.
“It was then I realized that my great-grandfather was rich in everything that mattered,” Sutton said. “He was doing God’s work and he was a happy man.”
For the past 18 years, Sutton has been pastor of Mayfield Park Baptist Church in San Antonio, which he calls “a wonderful church filled with people who want to serve God and others.”
Mayfield Park Baptist is a 70-year-old church located in the southeastern part of San Antonio. Membership is about 300 with an average pre-COVID-19 Sunday School attendance near 100.
Mayfield Park seeks to minister to both the spiritual and physical needs of its community.
For more than a decade and a half, Virginia Rhue has directed the church’s food pantry and clothes closet ministry.
“She has a heart to serve God and others. Her kindness and compassion are vital to this ministry,” Sutton said.
Rhue began looking for a meaningful ministry after her husband’s death in 2002.
“To get my mind off my loss, in 2004 I started volunteering and I became more involved with my church,” she said. “I’m 85-years-old, and I’ve been working with this ministry 16 years.
Rhue acknowledges the challenges the ministry has confronted and continues to face. Currently, the food pantry’s normal operations have paused because of COVID-19. A key volunteer in the clothes closet ministry is dealing with health issues. And the community ministry always needs additional funds.
The needs in the community are great, Sutton said.
“But we also have families who are struggling to put food on the table or pay rent. Grandparents are raising grandchildren,” Sutton said. “Our area is one of the poorest in San Antonio.”
The church eagerly awaits the time when the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed and it can resume opening its food pantry and clothes closet twice a month.
The office phone rings daily, as people ask when the church will offer those ministries again.
In the meantime, the church responds as best it can to urgent needs.
Depending on the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the area, the church hopes to start a once-a-month pickup in January.
Before the virus started, 50 to 100 people came to the food and clothes pantry twice a month.
“People call in who need groceries. … They are hungry,” Rhue said. “Grandparents who are raising grandchildren, a woman who has 10 people living in her small house, a man out of work due to COVID — we box up what is available, and they pick it up.”
Many of the individuals the church serves are elderly and at high risk from the virus. The volunteers and pastor seek to set a good example by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and using hand sanitizer.
Long-term, Sutton recognizes the church needs to expand its volunteer base.
“When I came as pastor 18 years ago, this was a younger congregation,” he said. “Today, many of our older workers have medical conditions that keep them from serving. We need workers to prepare food in advance, to help with those waiting in lines and to prepare special packages for the homeless. And we need Christian men and women who can pray with the people.”
Other churches and individuals help by donating food and clothing.
When people go in for a job interview, having the right clothing gives them a feeling of confidence, he noted.
“Our people are so generous when it comes to keeping our clothes closet stocked,” Sutton said. “They donate ‘gently used clothing,’ and those who need these items are so grateful. These are usually high-quality and often the tags are still on.”
The church also seeks to provide much-needed information to area residents, enlisting outside resource people to answer questions about Medicare, health insurance and prescription drugs and other health care issues.
Christian counseling also is making a difference in the lives of people in the Mayfield Park area. San Antonio is seeing more alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and unemployment during the pandemic, and mental health issues especially need attention in stressful times.
Some of those who seek counseling became acquainted with the church through its food pantry and clothes closet.
“Mayfield Park may be their only connection to a Christian environment. We pray with them and share God’s love,” Sutton said.
Mayfield Park Baptist sponsors Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered recovery program consisting of a 12-step ministry. The group meets each Friday night, with child care and a meal provided. Large-group and small-group sessions are planned for both men and women.
Each Monday evening, a men’s accountability group meets in Sutton’s office. Participants engage in confidential discussion of issues in a supportive atmosphere.
In a real sense, Sutton is fulfilling his early desire to become a counselor and teacher, as well as following God’s call to the pastorate.
“I feel so blessed God called me into the ministry,” he said.
Sutton added he hopes the example of Mayfield Park will inspire other churches to serve their communities — “to do something for Christ and His people.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This article was originally published by the Baptist Standard. To read more articles like this on Texas Baptists, visit baptiststandard.com. This article also appears in TAB News, a digital regional Baptist publication. For more information or to subscribe to the TAB News app, visit tabonline.org/TAB-News-app.
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