Panhandle pastor-journalist delivers good news
October 13th, 2017 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
PLAINVIEW Veteran newspaperman and bivocational pastor Phillip Hamilton experienced an all-time low when he and a handful of members shut the doors of Halfway Baptist Church—located halfway between Olton and Plainview—for the last time two years ago.
“One of the saddest things you will ever do is to close a church,” Hamilton admitted.
Without a place to preach, Hamilton wondered what the Lord had in store.
He didn’t have to wonder long.
The Olton postmaster was also chairman of the deacons at Plainview’s Bethel Baptist Church, then seeking a pastor. Within two weeks, he invited Hamilton to preach for a month.
That month grew into another. In December 2015, Bethel called Hamilton to become its bivocational pastor.
Hamilton stepped into a church featuring “wonderful facilities” built 12 years earlier, with a prime location off Interstate 27 and a membership of only about 60 left from a split years before.
“At the first prayer meeting, we all sat around a conference table. That’s how few we had at first,” Hamilton said, calling the experience “eye opening.”
Despite the small membership, Hamilton saw potential in the location “perfectly situated for ministry” near a large residential development.
Hamilton also saw potential in the members, a “core of faithful people” with a “hands on” willingness to help with physical and administrative work as the church grew.
“Everyone has their own gifts and abilities, and they use them,” Hamilton said. He lays out the church bulletin, a natural task for a long-time news editor.
When Hamilton isn’t preaching, he is publishing the two weekly community newspapers he owns: the Olton Enterprise and the Hale Center American.
With his wife, Ursula, Hamilton works on the papers Monday through Wednesday, driving 23 miles for Wednesday night prayer meeting at Bethel.
“I do a lot of staying up late [Mondays and Tuesdays]. We finish by 5 p.m. Wednesday. The minute we finish the paper, we get in the car and drive to Plainview and do prayer meeting,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s road to ministry started 30 years ago, when the Lord called him during a church revival in Plainview.
With a degree in mass communications from Hardin Simmons University, he contacted the International Mission Board, but health issues precluded overseas work so he focused on journalism and part-time preaching.
His journalism career flourished with stints at newspapers in Plainview and Lubbock and at Dallas weeklies when he returned to his hometown to assist his ailing father.
Hamilton served as PR director at Wayland Baptist University before returning to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and later becoming managing editor of the newspaper in Paris, Texas. The stress of daily journalism and a longing for West Texas returned him to the Panhandle.
“We prayed and felt the Lord was leading us to get our own [newspaper],” Hamilton said. “We could determine the way things were covered, doing it with ethics.”
The struggling Olton weekly, which Hamilton had once considered purchasing, was again available at a fraction of its earlier cost.
“We packed up and moved back,” Hamilton said. “The Lord blessed, and we were able to turn the paper around.” They purchased the Hale Center paper a few years later.
Hamilton enjoys owning the two weeklies. He and Ursula produce the content; his three children, ages 13-22, occasionally supply photographs.
While he doesn’t get a day off, especially during football season when he covers Friday night games, he said his two careers mesh well. Though he’s usually unable to attend conferences, he praised the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s apps, field ministry strategists and other resources that strengthen his ministry.
Hamilton likened producing a sermon to writing a newspaper column, calling it a “joy” to go to church Thursdays and Fridays to prepare for Sunday after the newspapers are distributed to 1,500 homes and stores.
Hamilton credited his upbringing at First Baptist Dallas under pastor W.A. Criswell with preparing him to preach and to evangelize, evidenced by Bethel’s Reach Plainview program.
“The Lord laid it on our hearts to get out of church and into the neighborhood,” Hamilton said, explaining that small teams walk nearby neighborhoods on Thursday nights, knocking on doors, identifying themselves and asking for prayer requests.
“It’s amazing how many will share their prayer requests and tell you what’s going on in their hearts. We pray with them right there,” Hamilton said, adding, “If God opens the door to share the gospel, we do.”
Teams convey prayer requests to a designated “war room” off the church sanctuary where members pray for them.
Sometimes people recognize Hamilton from his days as a Plainview newspaper columnist. He smiles, says yes, and asks if he can pray for them.
Whether he’s delivering the weekly news or the good news, Hamilton is always joyfully up to the task.