Food and fellowship

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

The last Thursday evening of every month, the aroma of food cooking permeates the halls at Parkway Baptist Church. In the kitchen, pots and pans clang, tea boils on the stove, salads are tossed.
But the cooks aren’t women.
They’re men, men of all ages, men who are married and single, men of every socio-economic status who join together to prepare a meal for other men to enjoy.
They call themselves, simply, Wingman.
“We started this program in September 2009,” said the Rev. Brad Vose, associate pastor and minister of music at Parkway in Tupelo and a lead organizer of the group. “I had a friend who’s a pastor in Lakeland, Fla., who has an accountability program like this. They meet every week to eat wings. I kind of borrowed the name from them.”
The first time the Parkway Wingman members met, they, too, enjoyed wings. The next month, they feasted on wild game. After that came fried turkeys, Cajun food and wings again.
“We had about 20 guys come to our first gathering,” Vose said. “At our last one, we had almost 40. Cajun night and the second wing night were huge. And I think it can grow quite a bit more. Some men in our own church have no clue what it’s all about.”
It’s about food, of course, but more importantly, it’s about accountability.
“We wanted to do something to make men accountable to each other,” Vose said. “Men in church struggle just like men outside church do, with marriage, financial problems, work headaches. We can talk about all that, share all of that.”
The Rev. Paul Brashier, pastor at Parkway, said once Vose introduced the idea of the Wingman to the church, the program was put in place quickly.
“Everybody got on board real quick,” Brashier said. “It was a need we had and we didn’t even realize it. It just took off.”
Mexican fiesta
This past Thursday, a Mexican fiesta was on the menu.
Early in the afternoon, Vose gathered in the kitchen with Philip Grissom, John Mark Jarrett, Andy Witt and Ralph Price to get the food preparation started. The five chopped avocados, diced fruit, stirred soups, tended cornbread and boiled tea bags, all the while talking and joking with one another.
“Some come early to help prepare food, prep and cook,” said Vose, who is moving later this week to Paducah, Ky., where he’s taken a job as a worship pastor. “Some get here from work just in time to eat. It’s not a requirement to bring food, but we encourage it.”
The men feasted on beef fajitas, jalapeampño soup, chicken tortilla soup, fruit salsa, tossed avocado salad, Mexican cornbread, guacamole, seven-layer dip, pinto beans with green chilies, blackberry cobbler and a three-milk cake, among other things.
“My wife enjoys knowing that men are bonding together,” said Witt, as he stirred a big pot of soup. “Being the director of children’s services here, she knows it’s important for the man to be the leader in the house.”
Jarrett, who was busy chopping kiwi for a fruit salad, is the youth minister at Parkway. He often invites young men to join the Wingman group for food and fellowship.
“I encourage them to come and spend time with their dads and build accountability in the family as well,” he said. “It’s a really neat thing for a young guy to see his dad pray or lead a devotional or interact with other Godly men.”