CONVERSATIONS WITH A PASTOR:
REV. MATT RICE, SAN ANTONIO FIRST
About you – Tell us about your history at San Antonio First Church.
I became the pastor at SAF in September of 2002. The church’s primary means of connecting with the community had been a Christian school that closed not long before my arrival. At a lunch meeting with the pastor of a neighboring Baptist church, my eyes were opened when he said our churches are not in the suburbs, but rather the mid-cities and becoming more urban every day. The way I had known ministry needed to adapt to fit my new environment.
About the ministry – Tell us about West Avenue Compassion.
In the spring of 2008, I visited our local elementary school to ask how SAF could assist them. I was shocked to learn that over 82% of their students qualify for free or assisted lunch. The family life specialist at Larkspur Elementary said there was an urgent need among their students for food and clothing. God had opened a door for SAF to connect with our community and meet their immediate needs at the same time.
The church leadership fully endorsed the proposal to hire staff to launch a compassionate ministry center. April 1, 2009, Rick Miller joined the team of SAF and gave birth to a ministry that would soon become West Avenue Compassion (WAC). Visionary leaders like Amy Aguinaga (2011-2020) and Dr. Eric Buell (2020-present) have continued to expand the community impact of WAC.
At present, WAC serves around 280 families every week by distributing food & clothing, offering English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, open computer lab times, employment searches, resume help, and spaces in our Community Garden. Our community neighbors have access to nutrition classes offered by Texas A&M AgriLife scheduled through our local Wesley Nurse. Our Wellness & Education Coordinator is a family physician who oversees this exciting new endeavor.
Tell us about your community partners and why you think these partnerships are important.
West Avenue Compassion first opened with food donations and volunteers from SAF, but the ministry soon outgrew both. Today nine different churches in the northern San Antonio area send volunteers and monetary donations to WAC. WAC & SAF share the facility with multiple organizations, including the North Central Rotary Club of San Antonio.
Through the close relationship WAC has developed with Larkspur Elementary School, we learn the needs of specific families. Many times new families come to the area in need of basic household items. WAC assists these families in addressing their food insecurity, providing clothing, and offering ESL as a way for the families to further integrate into the San Antonio community.
If you could offer one piece of advice to a church that is considering a community service opportunity, what would it be?
Listen to your community. Find points of contact in the community such as schools, city council representatives, other churches, and ask what they see as some of the greatest needs in your community.
How has SNU impacted your family or local ministry?
The foundation for West Avenue Compassion was laid by an SNU Pastoral Ministry major. Rick Miller’s time serving at the Penn Avenue Church of the Nazarene and their partner ministry, OKC Compassion, prepared him to launch West Avenue Compassion perfectly. In 28 years of ministry in Texas, I have consistently seen SNU graduates serve the church well. My belief in SNU is so strong my four kids have attended there, with three currently enrolled.
For more information about San Antonio First and West Avenue Compassion, please email Rev. Matt Rice.