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Pastor leads church to reach out, sees two-decadelong growth spurtcomment (0)

May 1, 2008

By Greg Heyman

James Mercer had a vision for Hollinger’s Island Baptist Church, Mobile, when he became pastor in 1988. It was to reach the world for Christ, of course. But he knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

"The world we live in is not going to be drawn to church," Mercer said. "The church has to go to them. They are looking for someone who will love them, and we’re not going to be able to share the good news until we prove our love for them."

So the Mobile Baptist Association church set out to prove its love by reaching out and touching the lives of Navy personnel, women who might not ordinarily enter a church, Vietnamese believers and many others.

One of the first ways Mercer and his congregation began working with those outside the walls of Hollinger’s Island Baptist was through ministering to military personnel serving at the naval station in Mobile. Efforts included hosting gatherings for military personnel and their families to welcome them to the community, providing free care for their children and other ministries that lasted into the mid-1990s, when the base was closed.

Since 1989, Krafty Kritters has brought women from the community together every Thursday for a time of fellowship through the creation of crafts and service-oriented items that include bags containing small gifts, toiletries and snacks for mentally handicapped children, the elderly and residents of women’s shelters. About 20 women attend each week.

Occasionally Mercer shares a devotional with the women, some of whom are members of area churches and some who do not attend church.

"Some of the ladies, that’s the only touch that they have with Christ during the week," he said.

Though Hollinger’s Island Baptist averages around 120 in Sunday School and 150 in worship, it has managed to multiply by supporting and planting other churches.

In January 1999, Hollinger’s Island Baptist became the host church for the Vietnamese Mission, which consistently averages 80 in attendance for Sunday morning worship. The mission’s congregation meets in the sanctuary at 9 a.m., while the church’s members are in Sunday School classes.

The church planted the South Mobile Mission in Theodore in 1992. It became First Baptist Church, South Mobile, in 1994 and now has an average attendance of 50 for Sunday morning worship.

In March, Mercer celebrated his own milestone — his 20th anniversary as pastor of Hollinger’s Island Baptist. In that time, his passion for reaching the community has not gone unnoticed by his associates or church members.

Mary Hamilton said she has witnessed firsthand the love Mercer feels for others during the nine years she has served as his secretary.

"He never ceases to amaze me with his loving care for everyone around him," Hamilton said. "He is a servant of God who deeply cares for his fellow man and looks for only the good in whomever he meets."

But Jean Hansen, a member of Hollinger’s Island Baptist for 50 years, believes the best thing about Mercer is that both church members and community members know they can trust him.

"If you tell him anything, that stays with him. It doesn’t go any further," Hansen said. "Whether you’re a member of our church or not, he’s going to be there for you as a pastor."

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