De Soto’s rock of faith
Baptist Pastor Copeland spiritual ‘backbone’ for 37 years
The Rev. Richard Copeland's devotion to his congregation is so complete that it sometimes gives the wrong impression.
"I had an older daughter who spent so much time in the hospital and Richard came to see her so often the nurses thought he was her boyfriend," Frances Lawhead said.
The concern and attention the pastor of the De Soto Baptist Church gave her daughter Jeanene wasn't unique, Lawhead said.
"He's the backbone of our church," she said. "He's the person who is there when you need him, not only to our church but to our community."
Borrowing terms from medicine, Copeland said his community ministry was a general practice as opposed to the specialty. That, Copeland said, kept him busy but also was part of the appeal that maintained his interest in the job he has held for nearly four decades.
"I like the variety I have and being with the people," he said. "On a typical day, mornings are more study and administration with some calling on people. Afternoons can also be involved in that, but that's when I try to make hospital and nursing home calls.
"Of course, weddings and funerals take precedent over everything."
Monday morning, Copeland started planning for one of his regular visits to Hillside Village soon after spending time on the phone working out the details of an upcoming youth retreat. Appropriately, the pastor uses the acronym CAPPS to define the many hats he wore in his ministry. The C stood for contacting people, the A for administration, the first P for prayer time, the second P for preaching and the S for study, he said.
More and more, his job was defined by the telephone, Copeland said.
"The biggest change I've seen -- and I've talked to other ministers -- is you don't do a lot of house calling anymore," he said. "Everybody wants privacy and is so busy, so I spend a lot more time on the phone."
In all these activities, Copeland said he had the assistance of his congregation. Deacons help with the churches spiritual mission, trustees help manage the property, and a financial committee lent expertise in that field.
There are also people like Mary Lou Simmons, the church's visitation minister, and her late husband, Kenny, who served in the same capacity as well as a long stint as worship leader at the church.
Simmons said Copeland told her she did much to lighten his load but said, "I'm not so sure."
She and Copeland try to schedule visits to hospitals, nursing homes and shut-ins so that both don't visit on the same day, Simmons said. But she said she often found Copeland stopped by for a visit on an unscheduled day. If a person was critically ill or scheduled for surgery, Copeland was always there, she said.
In the course of his busy schedule, it was his goal to finish his Sunday sermon early in the week, Copeland said. His long tenure at the church and his community involvement allowed him to sense when the congregation needed spiritual guidance or comfort in response to local or national events, the pastor said.
On the other hand, Copeland said he often reminded his congregation that comfort was the product of work and commitment.
"I think everyone is seeking a sense of security and meaning in life," he said. "Regardless of the topic or Scripture, you always call on people to make a commitment -- to be responsible in their lives to God and their fellow man."
The result, parishioner Anita Woywod said, was interesting and relevant sermons.
"Instead of straight from the Bible, he always uses a human-interest story," she said. "He is such a good storyteller he always holds everybody's attention, from the little kids to the big people.
"If he makes a mistake, he always makes a joke to lighten it up."
Woywod, Lawhead and Simmons expressed wonder at Copeland's endurance and energy. He had the ability to spend nights in the hospital and still give time to other areas of his job, they said.
Simmons and Woywod joked that they knew the source of that energy.
"He has to stay young to keep up with the youth," Simmons said.
The church was lucky to get a team in the pastor and his wife, Mary Etta, the vocal music teacher at De Soto High School, Simmons and Lawhead said. It was a view Copeland shared.
"With her being a teacher, that's been a real plus," he said. "Certainly, it made me more a part of the community. Youth ministry -- it gives me a little there also."
On the occasion of his 37th anniversary as pastor of his church, the community of De Soto has taken time to thank Copeland for his efforts and devotion. Last month, De Soto Mayor David Anderson surprised Copeland at a Sunday service with a visit to proclaim this coming Sunday Richard Copeland Day. The church will have a reception for the Copelands from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the church.
The concept was that the Holy Spirit guides the placement of ministers at churches, Copeland said. Ministers joked that the Holy Spirit didn't have a very good batting average because of the number of assignments that don't work out, he said.
If that's the case, the Holy Spirit hit a homerun with Copeland and De Soto. There was no position that would draw him from the community, although he does have a resume on file that is due for its five-year renewal.
"I'm not going to do it this time," he said. "There's no need. I'm going to be here until I retire."
That won't happen for awhile either, Copeland said.
"They say you'll know when it's time," he said. "I still enjoy the pastorate. I do enjoy the people. As long as I have my health and I enjoy it or until God says it's time to do something a little different, I'll keep at it.
"It's a little different job than mowing a lawn where you can look back and say 'I did that.' The one thing that makes me feel good is to know my sermon is beneficial to people or someone tells me how helpful a hospital visit was."