When the Rev. Kenneth L. Cotton arrived in Texas City, tasked with taking on the leadership of one of the community’s most historic churches, he also faced the novel barrier of preaching in the face of the worst pandemic that his church had ever faced in its 107 years of service.
“Barbours Chapel never stopped services; our church was never closed,” Cotton told Our Faith. “But, because of these unprecedented times, the church has had to make difficult, yet necessary decisions. We limited funerals, weddings and other community activities to members only, with a limited number of family. We also have a restricted nursery area for some of our most vulnerable congregants. Initially, we held services in the parking lot but resumed inside services back in May.”
Few congregations have invested as heavily in COVID-19 protections as Barbours has with Cotton.
“Under my direction, we have installed a thermal imaging machine to monitor temperatures, along with non-touch hand sanitizers, signage and an overflow room to meet the CDC-seating capacity guidelines,” he said. “We must adapt and adjust to the challenges churches are facing today without complaint.”
Cotton previously pastored at Goodwill Baptist Church in Pineland some three hours from here in Sabine County. He learned the art of leading from his father, the Rev. Reggie L. Cotton, who set an extended example by ministering for more than six decades.
“My father told me that, ‘Some people may be able to preach or teach better than you but, son, walk in your truth.’ I have lived by those words since I first stepped into the pulpit,” Cotton said. “As the pastor of Greater Barbours Chapel, I do not teach one thing and live another.”
But now, Cotton is looking to the future, not the past. He has plans for those from 8 years old to 80 years old.
“I have faced many of the same obstacles and dealt with similar situations our youth and young adults are facing today,” he said. “Youth groups here start with a transparent leader who is willing to invest quality time, being hands-on and building relationships by knowing the hearts and minds of our youth.
“If we sow into the lives of our youth today, along with their discipline and dedication, the benefits of positive and productive leaders will be reaped later. My advice to other preachers is to keep their youth active, motivated and connected to God’s work.”
And, if you should turn 80 years old or more here, and Cotton learns of it, be ready. There just might be a celebratory parade of members’ cars passing by your door. Those who are shut-ins also are on his list for home-delivered Communion, phone calls and their own possible automotive processions.
For everyone in the middle, his vision is equally clear.
“I see the church as the mission field, and my message brings life because we know God inspired it, Jesus modeled it, the Holy Spirit empowers it and the people in the community need it,” he said. “My vision is that our church will seek to be heavily involved in outreach, charity, evangelism and mission work every week.”
COVID-19 did manage to delay this profile of the pastor. We’ll give him the last word to reflect on his reception here.
“I have been welcomed with open arms and open hearts,” he said. “The people of Barbours are ready to be led, and I am ready to continue the work assigned to me at this church that has remained valuable to our community for over a century.”
Next week in Our Faith: One island church demonstrates how to survive hurricanes, plagues and demographic changes — for a century and a half, and counting.