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Hot summer days, cool snowballs provide ministry

 

Joe Westbury/Index

Jerry St. Pierre, center, pastor of Christ Community Church in Slidell, prays with a couple after they visited his snowball stand at a Crossover block party at Suburban Baptist Church. St. Pierre says his bivocational ministry places him in the marketplace more effectively than traditional pastor roles who find themselves tied to the office and managing staff and church facilities. His congregation is a new house church plant in suburban New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS, LA — In many ways Jerry St. Pierre can be described as the life of the party. People crowd around him on the hottest of New Orleans days, seeking great conversation and a cool outlook on life that would put anyone at ease.

He’s also full of hot air at times, and as bombastic as anyone at the party with his voice booming over anyone in the crowd. Yet he’s always in demand when people are looking for a good time and someone to liven up their social gathering.

Not many pastors can claim that varied of a personality and find themselves in such demand that they can actually charge for their presence. But as owner of My Snowball Party, the jovial Louisianan has found a creative way that meshes his personality with a business that helps subsidize his bivocational ministry.

St. Pierre’s world is filled with the colors and scents of grape, orange, diet strawberry, ice cream, wedding cake, strawberry, and blue bubble gum that are in high demand in his snowball business; the regular hum of generators pumping out air to fill a variety of inflatables; and the sound systems that let music or a voice waft across a lawn for a child’s birthday party or neighborhood block party.

“People down here love their snowballs; it’s hot and humid and it’s a great treat and a good way to cool down.

“The Lord gave my wife and I the idea for this ministry and it’s been a tremendous blessing. It’s an original idea straight from Him,” he says under a shady canopy during a Crossover New Orleans block party.

On this summer day all seems to be well. Business is good, he’s shaving ice at a breakneck speed, his future looks bright, and he’s paying his bills. But that’s far from the life he lived to this point.

Katrina refugee’s sojourn in Georgia leads to Truett-McConnell degree and graduation as class valedictorian, then a return home to launch bivocational ministry.

In 2004 St. Pierre had just returned from six months of active Army National Guard duty in Afghanistan. Eventually he began selling insurance to make ends meet when, in August 2005, an insignificant tropical disturbance formed over the Bahamas.

Within a week the world knew about the $81 billion in destruction that the storm, which grew into Hurricane Katrina, caused to the city. The young St. Pierre, age 25 at the time, and his pregnant wife, Misti, became Katrina refugees.

“God was working in my life then about entering the ministry but I couldn’t give Him a solid answer. I thought about enrolling in the undergraduate program at New Orleans Seminary in preparation to pursue my seminary degree but that’s when Katrina hit.”

What began as a personal disaster turned into a lifestyle change with a far clearer sense of ministry. The couple packed their belongings and moved from Slidell to join other family members who had evacuated to Georgia.

“We came with plans to stay three days, not three years, but that’s how it played out,” he says.

 

Quest for truth

One day in those first few months St. Pierre drove by Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland and decided to give it a look. He liked what he saw and enrolled in January 2006. A few months later as he and his wife settled in; their child was born at Habersham Medical Center.

“I was hungry for knowledge and I knew this was where God wanted me to be,” he says. That quest for truth lead him to graduate three years later, in July 2009, as valedictorian of his class.

Joe Westbury/Index

A grandfather teaches his grandson the fine art of applying one of nearly a dozen syrups to St. Pierre’s snowballs.

During those years he and Misti visited New Orleans a few times and could not get their home city off their hearts. After graduation they returned to Slidell so he could enroll at New Orleans Seminary.

“We both knew God wanted us back here, we just didn’t know exactly why,” he says.

The seminary years were lean as they are for most young couples. They, as other seminary students, made regular prayer requests of friends for answers to their ongoing financial crisis.

But feeling like they were following God’s direction they purchased a large “fixer upper” older house at a considerable discount. The plan was to use the structure as the base from which they would build a house church network. It all seemed to make perfect sense.

“That’s when some financial support we were counting on failed to materialize. In the fall of 2011 we found ourselves completely broke. By December I had $48 in the bank, I was a fulltime student with a wife and now two kids, and I didn’t have a job. I’ve never been that broke since I was a teenager,” he explains.

That’s when he listed the house for rent as he and his family prepared to move out. But there were no takers after nearly three months.

“Then one night at 1:30 a.m., God and I had a nice loud talk in the kitchen. Misti knew not to bother us but let us work it out. I told Him I was doing all of this for Him and people had bailed on their support to us. We needed that support and counted on it, and now it was gone.

“I told Him I was going to take my hands off of that and give it all to Him. I told Him I was committing it all to Him and was going to watch Him work.”

“It’s a lot harder being bivocational but I like it … I can tell people what they need to hear from the Lord because they are not paying my salary and controlling the message.”

Jerry St. Pierre, pastor, Christ Community Church

That’s when things began to turn around.

The military contacted him to pay him $1,300 in back salary from two years earlier. That went toward the mortgage and some other bills; the seminary emergency fund provided some limited assistance.

And St. Pierre kept telling God, “’This is your work, I’m walking by faith here. You have to bail us out if this is where you want us to be.’ That’s when He gave me the idea for a bivocational ministry based on the snowball business,” he says.

There were no shortage of doubters and many didn’t believe he could make the new venture work. But, he says with a confidence that has come to define his ministry, “I knew my job was to obey Him and let Him do His thing.

“What happened was just amazing. The Lord gave us, and continues to give us, the customers we need when we need them. I’m not going to tell you that we’re debt free because we are still digging ourselves out of the hole. But the Lord is the provider and my job is to walk by faith.

“I can take care of my family now because of this job. It’s a lot harder being bivocational but I like it … it frees me up because I don’t have administrative responsibilities that tie me to a desk. I don’t have office hours to maintain so I’m always out in the community where the people are. And perhaps most importantly, I can tell people what they need to hear from the Lord because they are not paying my salary and controlling the message.

“My paycheck is not dependent on pleasing a congregation, it’s dependent on pleasing God.”

Joe Westbury/Index

St. Pierre, in the bed of his pickup, get a little help from youth in setting up his portable snowball ministry at a block party. St. Pierre says the business model is the perfect fit for a bivocational pastor. NAMB honored bivocational pastors like St. Pierre during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.

Joe Westbury/Index

The perfect block of ice and the perfect temperature of the shaving machine equals the perfect snowball, St. Pierre maintains. New Orleans snowballs are unique in that they actually resemble snow in their light, fluffy mouth feel with no ice shards or crunchy texture.

Joe Westbury/Index

St. Pierre counsels a couple who are living together about their spiritual walk. The man admitted he has fallen away from being involved in a church and knew he needed to remedy that shortfalling. After praying with them St. Pierre invited the couple to attend Suburban Baptist Church – which was sponsoring the block party – the very next day.