BRANDON, Miss. (BP)–With up to 1,700 worshipers attending three Sunday morning services, monthly communion preparation at Pine Lake Baptist Church used to take at least an hour.
But the job has been sliced to 15 to 20 minutes with a dispensing system that can fill 40 half-ounce cups in two seconds, executive pastor Larry Herndon of the Brandon, Miss., church.
“We’re using it and loving the stew out of it,” Herndon said. “I would love to have a patent on that thing.”
That isn’t possible, since retired engineer Wil Greenlee of Louisville, Ky., acquired one in December. The 77-year-old inventor designed his invention to meet the needs at one of the nation’s largest mega-churches.
He claims to have invested so many hours in the project that he will be lucky if he ever breaks even, and adds he did it with missions in mind.
“I thought, ‘If I can build this and get it into a number of mega-churches, there will be far more missions done than I could do on a one-on-one basis,” said Greenlee, a member of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. “If I release people for other missionary work, that’s as good as I could do.”
Greenlee’s invention is a time-saver, said Darren Walter, guest services minister at Southeast Christian. “Several people have had time freed up to be involved in other things.”
The church’s move into a 9,100-seat sanctuary two years ago provided Greenlee’s inspiration. Southeast needed to reduce weekly communion preparation time since it was trimming five weekend services to three.
The Missouri native, who quit school at 14 to help manage the family farm during the Depression, spent more than two years perfecting his invention. After scrapping several elements, he settled on brushed aluminum for the innards, with stainless steel layered on each side of the pot. He settled on plastic tubing after running tests that showed it could withstand more than 13 years of use.
However, the system is only halfway complete. By next year he hopes to fine-tune a mechanical device that will load cups into trays prior to filling. That will likely double the $2,995 cost.
“The Holy Spirit must have helped me,” Greenlee said of the tinkering that resolved the initial imperfections. “I can’t stand failure and my subconscious just kept going for answers.”
Greenlee began marketing the dispenser last spring, seven months before he finally secured the patent. By mid-January he had sold eight. At his basement workshop he has assembled more than three dozen additional units.
“This is the best thing since sliced bread,” Herndon commented at the Brandon, Miss., church. “I don’t know that it increases the number of volunteers, but it allows you to utilize their time in a better way.”
“This is one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever received,” said Terry Anderson of Christ Church of the Valley in suburban Phoenix, which won its system in a drawing at a Southeast pastors’ conference last spring.
After weekly attendance doubled the past two years, communion preparation had become a challenge, the associate pastor said. Today, instead of three people taking 90 minutes by hand, a single person finishes in half an hour.
“Now we have more people available for serving teams inside the sanctuary,” Anderson said.
At North Atlanta Church of Christ, Joe Gage and his wife used to spend two hours pouring juice before each Sunday morning service. Last summer the congregation added a second service, increasing the cup count by 41 percent. But with the dispenser, they finish in just over an hour.
“The two are so close together there’s no time to fill between services,” Gage noted.
Greenlee, who accepted Christ as Savior after a failed marriage in the 1950s, sees his triumph over early setbacks as a sign of God’s faithfulness.
“I think everything comes from God,” he said. “But life is given to us in a raw state. We have to refine it by prayer and effort. If you put your all into it and pray, you’re going to win.”
Note: You can reach Greenlee Communion Dispensing Systems at 502-425-5023.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TIME SAVER.