The Rev. Sherman Helton’s 45th pastoral anniversary celebration was an appreciative look at the past and a hopeful, joyous, and optimistic look toward the future.
The May 5 “Helton Gala” lauded Helton’s 45 years as pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Southaven. Fittingly, old friends and community supporters came for the public embrace.
The gala honored Helton and his wife, Pamela Helton, in an elegantly staged, after-five affair at the church’s Sherman L. Helton Family Life Center.
“And what a celebration it was,” said Helton. “The keynote speaker was Pastor Bartholomew Orr (senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven), who came out of New Hope.
“All his people came out of New Hope — his mama, his daddy, everybody. It was such an honor having Pastor Orr back with us to mark this occasion.”
“I realize every day how blessed I am,” said Pastor Helton. “I am better than I will ever deserve to be. God has been so good. I came to New Hope 45 years ago, and it’s the only church I have ever pastored.
“When I first came, New Hope was one of those twice-a-month churches, like most country churches were at the time. Be we’ve grown over the years, and the Lord continues to bless us.”
Under Helton’s leadership, New Hope has grown into a massive campus of 21 acres.
Orr delighted and entertained the gathering, using a boxing metaphor for being a pastor.
“In boxing, you have to have the right people in your corner,” Orr said. “And sometimes, you’ve got to get some people out of your corner because they don’t belong there. They’ve got to go.”
Helton reflected on how Orr’s message resonated with him.
“As you can imagine, people come and go over the years. And that’s just part of ministry. But then there are those who end up leaving that you thought would never leave. That can be heartbreaking, except when you concede that God sees and knows.
“God can see way down the road things that we cannot. So, I can truly say that for more than four decades, all things have worked together for my good,” Helton said.
Helton grew up in the Dixie Heights community near the old Hamilton High School at Wilson and Kerr. He was a 1964 Hamilton graduate. After completing high school, there still were 14 years before Helton would go to New Hope as the new pastor.
“I am a Vietnam veteran,” said Helton. “Then, I continued my education at Tennessee State University in Nashville. By the time I answered the call to pastor at New Hope, I had only accepted my call to ministry a year and a half before that time.
“I didn’t know much, but I knew that God had called me to ministry. I knew He had made me pastor of New Hope, and I believed that God would bless the work. He has been faithful.”
Helton’s father grew up in New Hope.
“Back in those days, agriculture was the main occupation of the community,” said Helton. Southaven had not been established … when my father was growing up there.
“The church was under the itinerant system, like many rural churches across the South. They met twice a month, either the first and third Sundays, or it was the second and fourth Sundays. God has brought us a mighty long way.”
Growing up, Helton was considered a gifted musician, holding the minister of music’s role at an early age. He also trained other young musicians and often played for other churches.