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‘Suits for Servants’ arrive in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Pinstripes and solids abounded when New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary students picked up their new suits May 10-11, thanks to Jim Tatum’s “Suits for Servants” ministry.

Tatum, a clothier from Jacksonville, Fla., traveled to New Orleans in April to fit students for new suits and to share how God led him to start the unique ministry.

During Tatum’s three days at New Orleans Seminary, 285 students ordered 520 suits at a cost of only $50 each. Those suits arrived in 38 heavy duty boxes that each weighed in at just over 53 pounds.

For students who qualified, the cost was even lower than that. New Orleans Seminary trustees, who held their spring meeting the week Tatum was on campus, collected money that provided suits free of charge to students in particular need. Still others heard about Suits for Servants and gave their own money as well.

Shane Baker, the seminary’s financial aid director and overseer of the suit distribution, said the affordability of the suits was what most impressed students. For many, the $50 price tag made the difference between having a much-needed suit and not having one at all.

“One guy in particular needed a suit because he’d gotten a job doing a weeklong retreat this summer,” Baker said. “This was great for him.”

But the low cost isn’t all Tatum’s suits have to offer. Their quality is also superior.

Jay Adkins, a New Orleans Seminary student and a local church pastor, bought two suits. Adkins’ father is a seminary trustee and was on hand when his fellow trustees gave money to help pay for the suits. He called and urged Adkins to check out the suits, and Adkins said what he discovered was a wonderful surprise.

“I went over and saw the style and quality [of the suits],” Adkins said. “I thought, ‘There’s no doubt.’ I absolutely needed a new dark suit for weddings and funerals. It was great.”

Jerry Barlow, dean of graduate studies at the seminary, pointed to the suit he was wearing when he introduced Tatum in chapel April 17.

“You’re looking at my introduction,” Barlow said. “I’m wearing a coat here that means a lot to me. I got it after Hurricane Katrina. It says ‘Jim Tatum,’ and that means a lot.”

In recent years, Tatum has been a particular help to ministers who were victims of hurricanes like Ivan and Katrina. Many of the ministers who received suits from Tatum lost everything in the devastating storms. After Hurricane Katrina, Tatum made sure that every seminary faculty member and several fulltime staff members received a new suit, sport coat and slacks.

For almost 50 years, Tatum has been outfitting ministers with new suits. Tatum said God gave him the idea for Suits for Servants at a conference in Chattanooga, Tenn., when the speaker asked every minister of the Gospel to stand up.

“I looked down and there were probably 800 or 900 people who stood to their feet,” Tatum said. “As real as I’m looking you in the face this morning, [God said] that I was to go home and go into the clothing business to help preachers and missionaries and fulltime workers for the Lord dress well, because a lot of them didn’t make much money.”

Not long after that, Tatum started a clothing business in his garage in Jacksonville. Eventually, the business grew to several stores in the Jacksonville area, and now Tatum spends most of his time speaking to groups and gathering resources to underwrite much of the cost for new suits.

Tatum quoted Romans 11:36 as the theme of his ministry: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”

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  • Michael McCormack