Baseball has its designated hitter. That's a non-fielding player named before a game begins - placed in the batting order - typically for the pitcher. First Baptist Church, Mansfield (FBC) also has a designated hitter. He doesn't swing a bat but he does step up to the plate when it's crunch time and help is needed.
Don Miller has served the role as skipper for the FBC team in a variety of ways, but come July 30th he will retire after more than 40 years of service.
In the beginning
Miller came to Mansfield straight from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his Masters in Religious Education. FBC Mansfield was his first and last full-time position he ever had while in the ministry.
But before that Miller served a stint in the U.S. Navy beginning in August of 1971. It was during the height of the Vietnam War, but he'd be the first to tell you he didn't make it to the scrap overseas. His tour of duty was spent in the “Sparkling City by the Sea" Corpus Christi.
"I went to Orlando for basic training, a new base that doesn't even exist now, that's how old I am," Miller said with a smile.
It didn't take him long before he realized he wanted to continue his education so whenever he could, he and a shipmate drove to Kingsville to take classes.
The time he was to spend in South Texas was supposed to last only 18 months but as the fighting in Nam wound down a directive was issued for all military personnel to remain at their stations. So Miller's year and a half stay turned into a three-year hitch on the Texas Gulf Coast.
"The school I was attending, Texas A&I opened a campus in Corpus, just five minutes from the base," Miller recalled. "The fighting Javelinas! I finished my degree, filed for an early out in May of ‘75, was approved in August and headed to Fort Worth."
Before leaving Corpus Christi Miller had been involved with a church - Parksdale Baptist, about the size of FBC.
"Our pastor had resigned and they hired me part-time to do the education work," Miller said. " They sent me to Glorieta to get training, but they wouldn't call me their Minister of Education because I didn't have a degree. They called me the ‘resource person.'
Miller admitted that it hurt his pride.
"But after 40 years of being in Mansfield I realize that's what I am," he said. "I find resources for for teachers, volunteers... people in need in the community."
Move to Mansfield
So Miller took an additional two years of education at seminary. During that time he struggled with which school to attend - Religious Education or Master in Divinity?
"I remember sitting on a bench outside asking God what should I do," Miller said.
It became clear.
Miller and his wife, Kathi, both a native of Oklahoma, desired to take a church outside Oklahoma City so they could be near family.
"We had an interview and I thought they were going to call us - they didn't," he said. "We were crushed. We wondered now what's going to happen?"
But God works in mysterious ways. While in class one day Miller spoke to a classmate who told him of an opportunity in a small town just down the road in Mansfield.
"He asked if I thought I might be interested and I said sure, I'd like to talk to them though," Miller said. "One thing led to another and by May of 1977, just shy of my 27th birthday, I was hired. What's great is that some of the people who were on the personnel committee at the time are still at FBC today."
Miller said the population of Mansfield was about 5,000 and at the time had just one red light in town and it was in downtown.
As Mansfield began to grow so did FBC. The land where the church currently resides was purchased in 1983 for $7,500 an acre, FBC bought 54 acres and paid it off within the year.
"We sat on it until ‘91 when we started building our first building," Miller said. "Before we moved to this location we had to pay Lone Star Gas $25,000 to run gas to the property and the City of Mansfield the same to provide water and sewer."
Miller said they finished the building in August of ‘92 but had to let the building sit vacant until January of ‘93. The reason was due to city codes changing in the middle of the construction process. The city's new inspector wouldn't give the church a certificate of occupancy, but eventually, they received a variance and were able to move in.
"We've had some great times and we've had some issues to work through," Miller said. "This is evidently where God wanted us to be."
Miller said when he began the churches membership was around 400. Today they average between 800 and 1000 members.
Most Memorable Moments
In 1986 FBC celebrated its 100th anniversary.
"That was a big deal," Miller said. "It was good to connect with people from the early days of the church."
Miller said he'd also not forget the creation of the Single Parent Fair program and what an impact it's made.
More than 200 volunteers from FBC participate in the annual fair that happens in late September or early October.
"Single moms and dads can bring their youngsters for haircuts, dental screenings, eye exams, family portraits, coats, mending, plus get car washes, oil changes, manicures, makeovers and a free lunch," Miller said. "They can also meet with accountants and attorneys, for free."
But it's Habitat for Humanity he holds particularly dear.
"I remembered speaking to Trinity Habitat's Executive Director, Gage Yager and asked if he would allow us a branch in Mansfield," Miller said. "He said sure if you can get the city to participate."
Miller said he, Gage and a member from the city drove around neighborhoods looking at vacant lots.
"I did the best I could to write down the addresses and send them to Gage," Miller said. "It was in the spring of 2005 and later that same year, around September or October, I received a call from Gage, we were good to go."
Miller said he was so excited that he ran out of his office to the location and stood over the lot and prayed, thanking God.
"That's when the work began. We knew we didn't have the funds to build it ourselves," he said. "Back when we started it was about $52,000, and now it's up to $73,000. But people came through."
He said the first couple were frame homes but since then have all been brick.
"Habitat for Humanity was the one thing that was our niche' as a church in the community," Miller added.
Miller said moving forward he'll do his best to "just be a member and serve as needed."
"These people are our family,” he said. “But come August we plan to visit other churches on Sunday to gain a new perspective, but we won’t venture too far away.”
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274