If there’s one thing former pro-basketball player and Pastor Eric Lee has learned during the pandemic, it’s that strategic moves work both on and off the basketball court.
“I met with my church leaders when the pandemic first hit,” said Lee. “And I told them, ‘There are some things in the budget that you won’t be getting.’ We did the same thing Jesus did when He fed the 5,000. He organized, He mobilized and He maximized available resources.”
How does that translate?
Lee started thinking outside of the box, or, outside of the four walls of St. Paul Baptist Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi.
St. Paul sponsored several new outreach ministries on social media platforms that have helped many.
The church hosted, “Talk About It Tuesday,” a partnership with a licensed counselor who would come on and talk about some issues many were experiencing, such as depression, financial pressure and job loss, marital difficulties and relationship challenges.
Another church partner provided sound, valuable advice about finances and money management.
Also, many have been blessed with the dynamic teaching of the Sunday School Superintendent Dennis Luckett, a retired firefighter.
“We have enjoyed sharing Sunday School lessons with our members and so many new friends and followers,” said Luckett. “God has truly sustained us and kept us strong through this pandemic.”
As a pastor leading people through a pandemic that required periods of “safer at home” and isolation, Lee wanted to maintain the sense that St. Paul is a church family.
“We had to keep our us together,” said Lee. “We had to stay connected. I believe God served notice to all mankind that He is still the Supreme Authority. COVID-19 shut down the entire world. Can you imagine if He removed Himself altogether and let everything happen that could happen? But through it all, God gave us some creative strategies which have helped us.”
One of the more popular activities has been movie night. Once a month, a drive-in movie is set up on the parking lot — big screen, huge projector. Everyone loves sitting in their cars and enjoying movie night, Lee said.
Lee feels the pandemic broadened the reach of small churches everywhere with social media.
Like many pastors, Lee found he was on equal footing with mega-churches. Virtual, live broadcasts and the ZOOM meeting platform were accessible to everyone.
“During our challenges with COVID-19, the Lord did several things,” said Lee. “The church as a whole has become a beacon of hope and light again.
“The gospel has gone further, and God has broadened our reach. We’ve had many to come in and view our services from all over the country. And that is a tremendous blessing.”
Lee grew up in the Mississippi Delta city of Indianola and attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) on a basketball scholarship.
He went on to play ball professionally with the Harlem Globetrotters and the Porta La Cruz Mariners in Venezuela.
Later, he graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg with a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. Lee also holds master’s degrees in Business Administration with a specialization in Marketing, and in Divinity.
Lee moved to Oklahoma City where he met his wife, Victoria Lee. It was there at Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church under Pastor A. Glenn Woodberry that Lee answered God’s call to preach the Gospel.
St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, like so many other churches across the South, was started under a brush harbor sometime after the slaves were freed.
The growing congregation later purchased property at 5960 Pleasant Hill Rd., on Feb. 22, 1886, in Pleasant Hill, Mississippi, present-day Olive Branch.
A white, frame church was built there. In 1937, the church purchased an acre of land to be used as a cemetery.
A larger church building was later built, and the historic congregation calls the location home.