Coats loves God and Selma

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2004

Douglas Coats is not a household word in Selma or Dallas County. But he is a force for good that someday may move the proverbial mountain.

Coats would be the last one to draw that conclusion about himself.

A native of Demopolis, Coats moved here as a young adult and has been here ever since – 27 years. He is a graduate of Livingston University, now the University of West Alabama.

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He has been employed by the state of Alabama for 31 years as an accounts examiner and reviews accounts of governmental entities – mostly counties – including Dallas.

He’s a member of the First Church of the Nazarene, but is not bound by the narrow confines of denomination – which does not meant that his congregation is unimportant to him. “Outside of my family and God, the church is the main thing in my life,” he said.

He has devoted enormous amounts of time to causes in the community to which he is deeply committed – religious causes.

Coats’ core convictions are that God intends the Church of Jesus Christ to be one and that God is no respecter of persons.

Thus one finds Coats initiating some programs and activities and supporting many others that range far beyond his own congregation – while at the same time finding time to be a faithful husband and father and supporting other secular activities.

For example, he has been president of the Bow Hunters of Alabama, formed to foster sportsmanship and to promote conservation, for several years. His interests range widely.

But even the secular activities tie into what amounts to a wholistic vision of the character of God’s kingdom coming on Earth.

Coats is an humble, plain-spoken man. The first thing he said in a recent interview had to do with other people who serve Christ daily but without any notice. “I’ve gotten some visibility in the community lately because of my various activities,” he said, “but for most of my life here I have been one whose life and work has been largely hidden from view. The people who deserve the greatest thanks are those who labor quietly day by day in Christ’s vineyard without any recognition and without anyone even knowing what they are doing except family and close friends. These are the people without whom the church could not exist,” he said.

Coats himself has been the driving force in the growth of the mostly quarterly Unity Service, which been in place since April 2001. Since then approximately eight churches have opened their doors to the unity service worshipers. The next service will be held at First Presbyterian Church on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 8.

The movement has no organization but is closely tied to a biracial group of ministers who alternate meetings between First Baptist Church on Lauderdale and Brown Chapel AME Church.

The basic purpose of the service is to bring people together to worship the Lord. There are no doctrinal discussions. Rarely are there extended sermons. There is a spontaneity about each service, though plans are made for every one. Recent services have emphasized prayer and praise.

Coats has also been involved in efforts to bring Christians together to get some kind of weekend Christ-centered youth programming for young people in the community – to offer them somewhere to congregate other than a parking lot or the street.

For 16 years Coats taught mostly fifth- and sixth-graders Sunday school at First Church of the Nazarene. At the same time he had been conducting midweek afternoon times of meditation for the residents of Warren Manor since 1988.

“They called it ‘Inspiration Time with Doug,'” he chuckled.

When the previous Sunday morning volunteer chaplain had to resign in 1998, Coats was asked to take on the service.

His first response was, “I have to wait and see if the Lord gives me permission to give up my fifth/sixth-grade class to do this. I can’t do both.”

“In a few weeks,” Coats said, “it became clear that God wanted me to go to Warren Manor and do this thing, and I’ve been there ever since.”

For Coats the 10 a.m. Sunday morning service at Warren Manor – with all manner of elderly attending,

across racial and denominational lines – is the vision of God’s kingdom on Earth.

“Each Sunday morning I see God’s kingdom in front of me in those gathered for worship at Warren Manor. It’s unbelievable what a powerful experience it is.

“The beauty of the nursing home service is that it is a picture of what Selma needs to be. It’s a cross-section of Selma – racially, denominationally, economically – and that’s the true church, and they come and worship God together, and that’s why God blesses those services….I don’t want for people to wait until they get their walkers and wheelchairs to experience what the church is all about,” he said.

At First Church of the Nazarene, Coats has served in almost every position possible over the years. He has served on the church board for 16 or 17 years of the 21 years he has been there. He is president of the auxiliary missionary group and has headed the church’s prayer ministry for the past six years.

Coats also finds time for personal ministries, involving visitation and prayer with the elderly and the sick, including friends and members of his extended family.

Coats, because of his deep faith in God and God’s goodness, is very positive about the future of Selma.

“I do everything because of God and his love. On my own, I would do nothing. I would give up on Selma and leave town like a lot of others. But with God I know there’s real hope. I firmly believe if God’s people will work together, worship together, pray together, this will be God’s city,” he said.

Speaking of the Men’s Conference earlier this year, Coats said, “It was just another cog in the wheel to get God’s work done in this city. Each thing we do is one small part of a solution.”

Coats is married to Dianne Coats and they have two grown children, Jason who is married and has one grandchild and Christy who has just graduated from Auburn and is a public school teacher.