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Mentoring by mother, other pastors sustains pastor

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

The people who have mentored Pastor Eugene Singleton—from his mother to fellow pastors—inspire his determination to continue his ministry at the age of 70, despite challenges of sustaining a small congregation.

As pastor of St. Matthew’s Institutional Baptist Church for more than 16 years, Eugene led his church a few years ago from a 1918 deteriorating building at Hartson and Arthur to a new location in West Spokane on Sunset Blvd.

“We had more pigeons in the church than members,” Eugene quipped.

The four local pastors who mentored him informed him of the challenges of ministry—letting him know that being a pastor would not pay much, that he would have to be self sufficient and that he would often be called to hold onto his faith.

Prepared for doing ministry with limited funding, he and the congregation reach out, seeking partners to serve people coming for food, referring people seeking gas money or a place to sleep, finding ways to help underprivileged people and visiting people in nearby prisons.

“As a small, older, not-very-prosperous congregation, we never have enough hands to do everything,” he said, “but it doesn’t take many people to do good things.  Where Jesus is there is power.”

While it was clear that St. Matthews needed to move, expenses kept them from finding a new church building.

Help came from a ministry on the West Plains.  Pastor Dale Jenkins of the Airway Heights Southern Baptist Church came to him with an offer he could not refuse—the donation of a church building at no cost.

After speaking to Dale, Eugene informed his trustees and congregation, who came to a consensus to accept the offer.

The church moved into the building in November 2006

“Thanks to the generosity of the faith community, our church did not spend a penny out of church pockets for our new church,” Eugene said.  “It is amazing how God works.”

In addition to the building, the donation included an inspection and fees related to turning the building over to St. Matthews.

An only child, born in Alabama and reared as a Southern Baptist, he moved from Jefferson to Mobile, Ala., and to Vaden, Miss.

“Mother was a great influence and my primary mentor.  She was firm, but she loved me,” he said.

Their life centered around church.  Not having a car, they rode in a mule-drawn wagon that picked them up for church.

His mother worked in a restaurant from 6 a.m.  to 7 p.m., walking to work through the woods, sometimes returning with her legs bleeding from the branches.

Every Saturday, he helped his mother hunt and bag red clay, which was eaten for its nutritional and mineral value.  Neighbors would give them donations for the clay.

Eugene said that today people in the South still eat the red clay.  Sites on the internet sell red clay and speak of its health value.

Telling of the resourcefulness needed for his early years, Eugene shared a story of finding a discarded TV, carrying it home three miles to discover it had no sound.  Two weeks later he found another TV that had no picture.  Between the two, they had both sound and a picture.

At 16, he drove a bus part-time to earn money to pay tuition at a Presbyterian school.

At 19, he joined the army and served for two years.  In 1960, he enlisted in the Air Force and first came to Spokane in 1961.  He was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base until 1966.

While here, he met his wife, Clementeen, and they married in 1962.  She had two children, and they had a son, Tracy Singleton, who died at the age of 42.

His Air Force career included a short tour in Germany, returning to Fairchild and then serving a year in Vietnam, where he said he was exposed to Agent Orange.

His last assignment was at Malstrom AFB in Montana, where he attended a business college.

Returning to Spokane in 1969, Eugene began 18 years of work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  While there, he earned an associate degree at Spokane Falls Community College and a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Washington University.

His ministerial journey started in 1962 when he began attending the New Hope Baptist Church.  Its pastor, the Rev. Jim Sims, became his spiritual mentor. 

Eugene returned to worship there in 1969 and continued to be mentored by Jim.  He taught Sunday school and served as deacon and trustee board chair.

For two years, he studied intensively under the guidance of Jim and Pastor John Echols, also at New Hope.  He also studied under the Rev. Happy Watkins for five years.

Ordained in 1988, he became assistant pastor of New Hope.  After Jim retired in 1990, he served as the interim pastor.

Eugene was still interim pastor in the early 1990s when Happy became New Hope’s pastor.

“Happy continued to guide and support me,” Eugene said.

In addition to Jim, John and Happy, Eugene said another mentor has been the Rev. C.W. Andrews, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

 “Chet and Happy trusted in me and encouraged me in many ways and led me to seek the leadership of St. Matthews.  They still support me,” Eugene said.

Eugene said the four pastors instilled in him his desire to mentor others and to reach out to his congregation and those in need.

He also attended classes in biblical studies at Whitworth University, but was unable to complete his degree because of open-heart surgery in 1992.

His outreach through St. Matthews includes his commitment to work with inmates in correction facilities in Airway Heights and Medical Lake.

Prisoners’ stories about their lives inside and outside prison have inspired him as he builds relationships with them.

He also coordinates a program to transport eligible inmates each Sunday in a van to church services and then back to their facilities.

Eugene relies on his congregation and on pastors Kay and Doug Perry, to support the church’s programs.

“I am obedient to God and have a mission to complete,” Eugene said.  “While many of the historical founders of our church are no longer living, I have faithful people in my church today.”

Because people often stop by the church looking for food, he is working with Second Harvest to establish a sustainable food bank. 

To meet the need of hungry people, the church also offers a walk-in dinner and Bible study at 5:30 p.m., Wednesdays.

Eugene aims to help his congregation grow, encouraging younger members to help ensure the church’s future for a new generation.

Church activities include choir rehearsals, trustee meetings and a women’s support group that meets at the church to talk about women’s issues, pray and study the Bible.

Eugene also refers people seeking assistance to local resources that provide shelter, gas money and other needs.

The church has also raised and sent money to Haiti to support relief efforts after the recent earthquake.  It also helps support the Lottie Moon Mission, a program of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board in China.

While finances remain a problem that could limit expanding the church’s programs, Eugene is identifying grants and other resources to help the church serve underprivileged people.

Despite the challenges of leading a small congregation, Eugene said he has faith that he will find strength in his commitment to his church as long as God keeps him on this earth.

For information, call 535-6926.