Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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July 6, 2013

Church in the Park: Unique local ministry approaches 10th anniversary

Corsicana — For 10 years, a small band of followers have met at Fullerton Garitty Park at 9 a.m. each Sunday morning. Church in the Park began in March 2003, not as a “prayer stop” for park pedestrians, but as a vision of the late Bro. David Hale.

“Bro. David Hale started the church, but Beverly Hale is the main reason we’re all still together,” said church member Charlcie Reynolds.

Ten years of commitment, ministry, and love will be commemorated at 10 a.m. Sunday, July 14 at Fullerton-Garitty Park. The program will include a time of worship, singing, and special music; there will be history in photographs on display, and a new tree will be planted in honor of the members who have passed on to glory during the 10 years of Church in the Park. Lunch will be provided and everyone is invited.

Church in the Park began when Hale retired from Northside Baptist Church after 30 years. People continuously asked if he would teach a Bible study somewhere, and not wanting to pull people from any congregation, the Hales began having a weekly group at their home.

“Then we visited a Church in the Park in Lancaster, and David thought that was a great way to do an informal setting Bible study, where anyone from any denomination is welcome,” Beverly Hale said. “We don’t really even have a structured roll.”

Basically, people wanted a “David Hale Bible Study” and the late pastor thought it was a good way to reach the unchurched.

“A lot of people seemed to respond to it and became active,” Beverly said. “We have all kinds: Church of Christ, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, and even no denomination. It is very informal, come as you are, and bring a lawn chair if you wish, even though we have benches in the pavilion.”

The only reason there’s even a roll on paper is in the event of inclement weather or frigid temperatures, so they can call everyone with an alternative meeting place, like Temple Beth El.

In December 2005, Bro. Hale passed away. Not long afterward, surveys were passed out among Church in the Park members. The main question they were asked (and they could remain anonymous) was if Church in the Park did not continue without Bro. Hale, would they go back and once more become active in their former churches. Most said they were rather keep coming to Church in the Park. Supply pastors such as Bro. B.F. Risinger, Jr., John Lanoue, Bro. Rick Lamb, and the late O.E. Permenter filled in for a time.

“Then David Kimberly, the director of missions for Central Texas Baptist Association, met Bro. James Shugart, who had just resigned from a church in Mt. Calm he’d pastored for 12 years, and a resident of Waco,” she said. “He filled in for us five, maybe six Sundays in a row. He wasn’t really interested in a full-time pastorate, believing he was being called to do seminars and retreats and such.

“Now Bro. Shugart has been with us for seven years. He and his wife Angie, a very important part of the team, drive back and forth from Waco every Sunday. It has worked out — and the Lord had to do that, because I’d have never thought it would work.”

Church in the Park only has one committee — the mission committee.

All the offerings go into a birdhouse, because when they first started, they didn’t even think about offerings.

“David compared it to the first Christians who met on the riverbanks,” Beverly said. “The first time someone asked, ‘what do we do with our offerings?’ we just went ‘Oh!’”

The church votes on how the offering is used. Beverly Hale found it interesting that when they made a list of their offering money, and where it was suggested it go, and put it to a vote, many congregants had never had a say before in where their offerings were going, and once they saw they had a voice in it, their offerings doubled.

Until the coming of Bro. Shugart (who does receive a small salary), a large percentage of the offerings went to local missions, such as the Food Pantry, the Health Department, individual families with needs, and a percentage went to foreign missions, such as Latham Springs Encampment. A Hospitality House at Tennessee Colony where family members stay while visiting their loved ones in prison is another effective ministry that receives tithes from Church in the Park.

“It is neat to see where our offierings go, because it makes such an impact,” Reynolds said. “House of Refuge, Habitat for Humanity, even sponsor kids in Haiti.”

Hale points out that since they have no overhead, and no expenses other than Bro. Shugarts small salary, they have funds available to help families who have run into hard times or tragic situations.

Music for their outdoor worship is provided by a keyboard, brought each week by Beverly, and played by her, as well. Each week she makes up a sheet with all the words of the songs, as well as the scriptures, and when they gather at 9 a.m. in the park everybody can be on the same page.

“Dr. VanHorn has a hidden talent,” Beverly said. “He’s my backup keyboard player. We have two other people who can play. I’ve never had three backup keyboard players! Someone brings coffee or lemonade. We do birthdays once a month. It’s a sweet fellowship, because I think everyone feels like they’re contributing.”

Children flock to “Miss Beverly” who does a children’s church if kids are present. There is a Christmas candlelight service, a Thanksgiving meal, and fellowship lunches once a month.

“David said it at the beginning, it was so different, because we both grew up Southern Baptist,” Beverly said. “He said the Lord told him, ‘KISS. Keep it simple, stupid.’

“This was David’s cup of tea — he’d say, ‘it’s pure ministry.’ No budgets, no committee meetings, no staff, no building fund. I was the only one he could fuss at if he didn’t like the music.

Another wish Hale had was for a “prayer stop,” a place with a rough little building where people could stop and pray, on the side of the road or somewhere. Instead, the members of the Church in the Park congregation were given permission to construct a “Prayer Garden” at the park, with “scripture stones” in a peaceful, quiet place surrounded by God’s nature.

After Hale passed away, someone suggested giving five percent of the offerings to a David Hale Scholarship Fund, which they’ve done.

The July 14, 2013 10 year anniversary celebration will have a time of honoring those in the congregation who have passed on in the last 10 years: Hale, Buz Brown, Peggy Baechtle, Richard Giles, Lucille Green, Jan Ivie, Dr. Bill Lagomarsino, O.E. Permenter, Nell Rehders, Dewey Scruggs, Daisy Scruggs, and Carolyn Taylor.

“We want all former members, current members and anyone else to come that day,” Beverly said. “We’re hoping for a crowd.

“We have been blessed. We’ve had the opportunity to minister in many ways we could not do by ourselves.”

—————

Deanna Kirk may be reached by email at dkirk@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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