Pattersons step down from Copper Basin crisis center after three decades
By Lonnie Wilkey
DUCKTOWN — For years, Al and Margaret Patterson have been the couple families in the Copper Basin region of Tennessee turned to when they had nowhere else to go. The Pattersons, in turn, would point those families to their one, true hope — Jesus.
For more than a hundred years the Copper Basin (located in southeast Tennessee near the Georgia and North Carolina borders) was known for its copper mines and the area had a thriving economy. The Pattersons have seen the good times and the bad.
Patterson was a pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Copperhill while the mines were still in operation. In 1981, he became the director of missions for Copper Basin Baptist Association and times were prosperous in the region.
In 1986, however, the mines announced they would cease operations — a blow to the region because the mines employed about 3,500 people. Patterson recalled that after the mines closed, there was no major employer left in the area. Most people either had to find employment in Chattanooga or drive to Atlanta, 100 miles one way.
“When they closed the mines, our churches voted to begin some kind of ministry,” Patterson said. As a result of that decision, the Copper Basin Baptist Association Crisis Center was birthed.
“We never dreamed what we have today would be the outcome, but God has kept blessing,” said Patterson, who along with his wife, Margaret, retired Sept. 30.
With only 12 small churches in the association, it appeared to be a daunting task, but “God gave us everything,” said Margaret Patterson.
The land and buildings were donated to the association by a mining company that wanted to help people in the area after operations ceased. “Everything we have is a gift from God,” Al Patterson said. “We just stood back and watched Him work out all the details.”
Over three decades, God has continued to meet the needs of the crisis center, the couple agreed. Donors and volunteers have added additional buildings to the property and donations were always given just when they were needed most. “God has kept pouring blessings on us,” Patterson affirmed.
Patterson continued as director of missions for the association and his wife joined the center when it officially opened in 1988.
The Pattersons are grateful for the scores of volunteers who came to help the crisis center over the years. “A lot of groups came to love our people and to work on homes,” Margaret recalled. “They’ve been such a blessing to us and the people they ministered to,” she said.
The couple noted there is really no way of knowing how much food and clothing the crisis center provided to needy families over the years. At the height of its ministry, the center served more than 700 families monthly. As the economy improved and younger residents of the Copper Basin found employment, the number now averages about 450 families a month, the Pattersons said.
J.P. Kirkham of Victory Baptist Church in Mount Juliet has made about five trips to Copper Basin in recent years. Noting the extreme poverty in the area left barren by the mines, Kirkham observed that “Al and Margaret have been a lifeline to the people there through the food and clothing ministry” and the coordination of volunteer teams through the crisis center.
“They were the glue that held that community together,” Kirkham added. “I always enjoyed working with Al and Margaret. I have a ton of respect for them.”
Randy Hughes, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Copperhill, agreed. “They have entrenched themselves in the community. They know everybody and everybody knows them,” he said.
The pastor also observed that the Pattersons did not just help people “for a day.” They wanted to help residents of the community to be self-supporting and they reminded the people that God loves them, Hughes continued.
Hughes also cited the dedication of the Pattersons to the ministry in the community. “It was not a 9 to 5 job. They would take food to people in their homes after hours.” He also noted the Pattersons never judged people, but just kept loving them. “They’ve made a difference in a lot of lives.”
L.W. Smith, a member of Mine City Baptist Church, Ducktown, remembers when the Pattersons began the crisis center after the trailers were donated. “They have poured their lives into the ministry and put in numerous hours, sometimes as many as 80 hours a week,” he said.
“The Pattersons have touched many lives and possibly many souls have been won to the Lord as a result of their ministry,” he continued.
Smith added that the couple are true “servants of God. They are very special people.”
The couple reflected on the satisfaction they have received from their ministry throughout the Copper Basin.
“You find satisfaction knowing that you are in God’s will and are ministering to people who are hurting,” Patterson said. “We feel like we’ve been where God wanted us. It’s been a good journey,” he added.
Margaret Patterson noted her greatest joy has been to see God “change lives for the better and to see people saved who began to live for Him.”
Noting that God “has been so good,” she acknowledged that she wished she had kept better records, “but we know He keeps a record in heaven. I wanted Him to get the honor and glory of anything that happened that was good,” she stressed.
Though Al is 76 and Margaret is 74, they have no plans to stop serving the Lord. “There is no retirement from God’s work,” Patterson affirmed. His wife agreed. “I’m just thankful that I am still here and know the Lord and can be about His business.”
The couple asked for Tennessee Baptists “to pray that we know God’s will for the rest of our journey.” B&R