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Eight Mile pastor celebrates 50th year at congregationís helmcomment (0)

April 3, 2008

By Greg Heyman

Alvin Sullivan may have lengthy experience as a minister, but the same cannot be said of his resumé.

That’s because a March 30 celebration of Sullivan’s 80th birthday also marked his 50th year as pastor of Kushla-Bethany Baptist Church, Eight Mile, in Mobile Baptist Association. Except for 21 months at Four Points Baptist Church, Fruitdale, in Washington Baptist Association, he has spent his ministerial career at Kushla-Bethany Baptist.

Sullivan actually began serving at Bethany Baptist Church, Whistler, in June 1958. When that church merged with First Baptist Church, Kushla, in June 2003, he became pastor of the combined congregation, named to reflect the heritage of both churches.

Bethany Baptist’s congregation relocated to First, Kushla, and sold its former building to another Baptist church. In the time since, Kushla-Bethany has grown to include a Sunday School attendance of around 125, which doubles to 250 for worship. And the church recently completed a $2.2-million auditorium that will seat 550 people.

Sullivan never planned to stay so long but is not surprised by the duration of his service.

“I loved the people from the very beginning,” he said. “[I]t’s been a great partnership.”

And church members love him, too.

“He’s loved by the people and he always has been,” said church member Ross Langham, who began attending services at Bethany not long after Sullivan arrived. “He’s such a humble person, and he’s a friend to everybody he meets.”

Langham and his wife, Estelle, raised their two children in Sullivan’s church, and for the pastor, that’s just one of the blessings of having such a long tenure. He has seen second and even third generations of families grow up and get married. “I have married grandchildren of some of the people that I married when I first came [to Bethany],” he said.

Sherry Hall can relate. Hall, Kushla-Bethany’s financial secretary who began attending Bethany Baptist in 1959, said she and husband Jerry were married by Sullivan, as was their daughter Naomi.

“There’s a feeling of family here,” Hall said of Kushla-Bethany.

The congregation even eats together as a family, thanks to Sullivan.

He, along with wife Dolores, cooks and serves Sunday lunch at home every week for friends, church members and even some who are not regular attendees of Kushla-Bethany. Sullivan believes it serves as an outreach to those living in the Mobile area.

And it’s not the only way he’s reached out to the community. For several years, Bethany Baptist picked up work-release prisoners in the area and transported them to Sunday School and Training Union. Sullivan said the outreach began 10 years ago but was discontinued after five years because of procedure changes by the prison system.

Hall laughed when asked about ways Sullivan has helped those in the area.

“Frankly anybody that came to him, he helped,” she said. “They were always coming to him, and I don’t know of many that he turned away. If he couldn’t help them, he found somebody that could.”

And even though most his age have slowed down, Sullivan shows no signs of approaching his ministry at a more leisurely pace. “He’s an extremely hard worker and is still going at it pretty strong,” Langham said.

Retirement will also have to wait because Sullivan said he hasn’t even thought about it.

“I’m going to stay as long as my health and my mind stay together,” Sullivan said. “So far, I’ve been blessed in that respect.”

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