Seasoned Saints Luncheon

BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG —The Nursing Home Ministry at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church put together a wonderful service for area nursing homes Sat., March 12.

This annual program, which takes place on the second Saturday of March, has been going strong for some 20 years with Deaconess Mary Wooten, or Aunt Mary as she is so affectionately known, as the director.

Nursing homes from around the Bay area were invited out to an afternoon of music, home cooked food, fellowship and the Word of God.

The ministry stems from their Saturday Morning Women’s Pray Breakfast where congregation members go to infirmed members’ homes and cook breakfast and have prayer sessions.

“One of those meetings I said, ‘this is too good for us to keep in the kitchen. We need to take this to other places,’ and God told me the nursing home,” said Wooten.

As a child, people used to say that she was born mature. She longed to join in on the adult conversations, but in those days it was not proper.

“Long time ago you couldn’t get in their conversation,” said Wooten, who especially liked to hear the “old folks” tell stories.  “My sisters, brothers and cousins would be out playing and I would be right there with the old people. It just filled my heart and I just grew up like that.

Wooten also coordinates visits to nursing homes. Every fourth Friday of the month is designated to visiting facility.

The 78 year old confessed that some months she doesn’t feel like making the effort to visit the nursing homes, but once she gets there and sees the smiles on the residents’ faces, she wonders why she hesitated in the first place.

“If you go in there wishing you didn’t have to do it, someone will smile and it will have you hopping and skipping when you leave,” she chuckled.

Over the years the ministry has visited so many homes that Wooten has lost track. “I need a calculator to add up all the nursing homes we’ve visited over the years.”

Wooten encourages everyone to take some time and visit a nursing home. Many of the residents have no one who stops by regularly.

“Visit the nursing homes,” she implored. “You don’t even have to know anybody in there, and they will be so glad to see you. Any visit from anybody is welcoming.”

And if you feel that you need to bring gifts, there is no need. Wooten said your hands could be empty; all you need is a smile.

She touts that Mt. Zion Progressive is the only church in the city that has residents over as guess in their house. She feels that a change of scenery lifts their spirits; in fact, one year a gentleman said it was so warm and inviting there that he asked if he could just stay in a corner. All he required was food once in a while. Comments such as that warm the hearts of the ministry.

This year residents were entertained by the Snead Sister, Gwen and Faye, watched the Petals of Praise Dancers and during a delicious lunch of chicken or fish, rice and vegetable, they were serenaded by professional violinist Andrea Starr-Alonzo.

Reverend Diana Hunt, who made history as the first woman to be a regular member of Mt. Zion Progressive’s Board of Reverends and Ministers, provided the spiritually food.

She remarked that many people get sleepy after a big meal, but she has never had that problem when preaching the Word of God.

“I don’t think you’re going to sleep on me. I got a big mouth. I don’t even need a microphone. God gave me the power of my mouth,” Hunt said.

Wooten thanked Pastor Louis Murphy, Sr. for being a community person and allowing them to have this luncheon year after year.

“He really encourages us to go out from among these four walls because this is not where the work is, it’s a fill up station. You take what you get in here and take it out there,” she finished.

Student reporter Indhira Suero Acosta from the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg contributed to the photos.

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