It will soon be 25 years since Marilyn Mathis accepted the position of teaching leader for the First Wednesday Lunch Break ministry at Second Baptist Church in Conway. Since then, she has missed only a handful of days offering the devotional to the group of women who come from far and wide to enjoy a light lunch, fellowship and the words of wisdom shared by Mathis.
Mathis, who turned 72 in December, said she started the ministry when she was 47.
“As they say, ‘Time flies when you’ve having fun,’” she said with a smile. “It is fun. I can honestly say that I have never grown weary of this ministry. I’ve never wanted to quit. I’ve been tired in it, but never tired of it. It’s been a real blessing.”
She said the idea for the ministry actually came from Helen Benafield.
“Larry Pillow had a men’s noon ministry here, and Helen said we ought to have one for women, too,” Mathis said. “I said, ‘Yes, and I would love to teach it.’ We prayed about it and began it in February 1989.
“Helen did the food. Jeanne Smyers did the decorating. And I taught it,” Mathis said. “We called it simply Ladies Lunch Break, and it was held during a Bible study we had at the church in the fall and in the spring. A few years later, we changed it to First Wednesday Lunch Break, and it’s now held all year long.”
Mathis said the ministry has grown over the years.
“We recently did a survey and found that members from 33 churches representing seven denominations had attended,” she said. Mathis said the average attendance is between 100 and 120.
Mathis said various women have helped with the event over the years, including Ann Cantrell, Sandra Carroll, Frankie Glover, Sue Dearinger and Shirley Merritt.
“We even had a caterer for a while when we couldn’t get a cook, but that did not work out well,” Mathis said, “but God has been faithful.”
She said members of the Second Baptist Church Women’s Ministry Team, led by Jackie Brown and Glover, who is Mathis’ sister-in-law and has returned to the ministry, now do the cooking.
Doris Bounds coordinates the volunteers who help with the ministry.
Mathis will begin the 25th year of the ministry on Feb. 5. The topic for this anniversary observance will be The Four E’s.
Mathis described these E’s: “To exalt God, to encourage women, to enlighten them and, hopefully, to entertain them.
The Bible is not dull,” she said. “It is fun to study it.”
She said she would revisit past topics for this year’s devotionals.
“I spent this past October going over every lesson I have ever done,” she said, noting that she has hard copies of each lesson. “I decided that since God had given me these words, it was still good stuff. So, I will re-present 10 topics during this year.”
Mathis was born in Fordyce but moved to Conway with her parents when she was 3. She graduated from Conway High School in 1959 and received a Bachelor of Science in Education degree in elementary education from what was then State College of Arkansas (now the University of Central Arkansas) in the early 1970s. She taught first and second grades in the Conway School District for six years but resigned to work full time with her husband, Jerry, in the family business, Mathis Heating and Air.
She and Jerry have been married 54 years. They have one son, Todd Mathis, and two grandchildren, Wes Mathis, 22, a student at UCA; and Maegan Mathis, 21, a student at the Paul Mitchell Beauty School.
“I have been a member of Second Baptist Church for over 50 years,” Mathis said. “I was saved at a revival at Second in 1949 when I was 7. My grandchildren are fifth-generation family to attend this church. I taught almost every age in Sunday School, or small group as it’s now called — children, college and women. After 15 years, I rotated off as an active member of the Women’s Ministry Team. I attend a couples’ class with my husband.”
Mathis credits God foremost for the success of First Wednesday Lunch Break.
“He has been the faithful provider, enabler, teacher and guide for 24 years,” she said.
She also credits prayer. She has a prayer team that meets 30 minutes before each Wednesday session that prays for her and the other volunteers.
“They pray throughout the month, too, for other requests that are turned in to them,” she said.
Members of the prayer team include Deanna Blackmore, Joyce Kendrick, Darlene McGee and Sue Riner.
When asked when she will quit working with the ministry, Mathis said, “When God tells me to stop through health, circumstances, lack of interest …. He started the work, and he will finish the work.”
Women of all ages and every denomination are invited to First Wednesday Lunch Break. Lunch, which includes a dessert and beverage, will be served at noon Feb. 5 for $5. Child care is available at no charge with advance registration by calling (501) 327-4066 or (501) 730-4106 by Feb. 3.
First Wednesday Lunch Break is held in the Second Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 701 Polk St., at the corner of Polk and Harkrider streets. The lunch breaks will be held at that location in February and March but will move in April when the church relocates to its new home on Dave Ward Drive.
“We started here in this fellowship hall, and we will celebrate our 25th anniversary here,” Mathis said.