Mountain View Baptist Church shares love of God with community Thanksgiving dinner
“This ministry really touches my heart because there is that need there for people who are alone on Thanksgiving. They are going to be sitting at home by themselves. Why sit there when you can come visit with us?”
Sharon Loden’s words of compassion give voice to the feelings of many at Mountain View Baptist Church in Phil Campbell. It’s why the church began a Thanksgiving Day dinner ministry years ago – and why that ministry has still blossomed today, serving in excess of 600 meals to families across the area every year when the November holiday of grateful togetherness rolls around.
Sammy Taylor, who has been pastor at Mountain View for 42 years, said the ministry began as a work spearheaded by the church’s Christian Life Ministry Team. It was sparked, at least in part, when a local Civilian Club ceased a similar program in Russellville. “We really didn’t have a good location because we’re out in the country, but Donald Borden allowed us to use his restaurant – he gave us the keys that day to prepare this meal,” said Taylor, recalling how the first year’s dinner operated out of the Chat N’ Chew. “People knew where it was. It was easy to find, and they would come into the restaurant to eat or pick it up.”
The Christian Life Ministry Team coordinates the dinner each year, but the ministry involves nearly the entire church, with whole families doing their part to make it successful, children through senior adults pitching in to make it happen. “We wanted to provide a meal to those who were homebound or did not have an opportunity to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal with their family or friends,” Taylor explained. “We ask our church family to give at least one hour on Thanksgiving Day to help with this ministry – to be a blessing to someone else.”
Of course, a project that serves nearly 700 people in the community – which, for this program, encompasses Phil Campbell, Hackleburg, Bear Creek, Haleyville and Russellville – doesn’t start Thanksgiving morning. Preparations begin well in advance each year to purchase needed supplies, divvy up responsibilities and prepare and cook the food for a full turkey dinner with all the fixin’s.
“Our church strives to a be a church that reaches out to the community. We want to be known for helping other, reading out and meeting a need,” explained Loden, a church member who has helped with the dinner since its inception. “We want to focus on being a friend, listening and meeting a physical need. We want to be a church that will reach out in the community to share God’s love with the community. Our whole church has that desire.”
Community members who wish to take part in the Thanksgiving Day meal can eat and fellowship at the church, come pick up plates to take home or sign up to have meals delivered; church members deliver meals in a 15-mile radius. Taylor said many of the church’s families will stop in on their way to their own family Thanksgiving meals to help pack up dinners and then deliver them. The biggest delivery is to the Franklin County Jail, where Mountain View provides plates for every inmate and every employee on shift during that time.
“I think it’s a tremendous ministry because it feeds so many people,” said Carolyn Vinson, who coordinates the dressing for the meal – she and a small group of ladies prepare 16-18 large pans of dressing to meet the need. “It shows we care, and we hope it’s something they can look forward to each year. There’s a lot of people – senior citizens and all, maybe only one person in the home or two older people – and you can’t cook a big meal for two people. It’s just an outreach ministry – and we’ve had several people who have come into the church because of it. It’s very worthwhile.”
In assembly-line fashion. cooking and plating and plating for delivery begins about 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. Turkeys are smoked the night before, and some dishes – especially those giant pans of savory dressing – are cooked by the ladies at their own homes and brought to the church building, but volunteers in the kitchen on Thanksgiving morning stay busy with large pots on the stovetop, preparing green beans, gravy and mashed potatoes. Each meal also includes a roll, cranberry sauce and a hearty slice of pound cake. “It’s a great meal. I’ve had Thanksgiving here at the church for the past 25 years,” said Taylor, explaining many of the volunteers enjoy dinner at the church, with those who come to eat in, before joining their own families for an evening Thanksgiving meal. “Everybody seems to be happy with it.”
It’s not just the intended recipients who are happy with the outreach. Church volunteers said they always enjoy being a part of it. “We have a big time when we’re making the dressing and all. I just think it’s a real neat thing to be a part of. I really enjoy it every year,” said Vinson.
“We have the best time with this dinner. It’s just a blast,” Loden agreed. “We hope we can reach even more people this year – just to be a blessing, to reach out to people and show them God’s love … There’s a need for the food, and there’s a need there for the fellowship as well – and we’re supposed to be serving people, so that’s what we want to do.”
Taylor said when delivering meals, volunteers will also chat, share tracts and pray with recipients, hopefully helping fill that need for fellowship. “We’re here to minister to the community and give to the community,” Taylor said. “We want people to enjoy and pause on that day and be thankful for what we do have and how we have been blessed by God. We just want to be a blessing to them in some way.”
To reserve a place at Mountain View’s Thanksgiving table – whether literally, at the church building, or for carry out or delivery – people can call the church office at 205-993-4610 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Nov. 18. If no one answers, Taylor said callers should leave their name, address and number of plates requested, with a maximum of six per household.
“My sincere hope is that they feel the love of God and that we can, through offering the meal, show them God’s love and that he does care about them,” Loden said. “There are people here in Phil Campbell that care about them as well.”