oak hill — A born-and-bred Red Devil, Bishop Sam Calloway spends a good part of his time these days helping people withstand the lure of the devil.
That was something the head of Oak Hill-based Spirit and Truth Ministries himself struggled with for several years of his young adult life.
“I had this picture in my mind of being the perfect son for my mom (Margaret),” said Calloway, 61. “So when I would make mistakes, I didn’t have enough boldness to admit them, so I ended up being two different people. I would go to church, but I would be out at the nightclub, doing whatever came with the nightclub.
“It took me a long time to really face myself and come to grips with ‘you got to be who you say you are.’”
He still remembers the turning point vividly.
“I was at school one day teaching Bible (club) ... and this one little girl said to me, ‘Mr. C, my mommy saw you at the club last night.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, and I’m trying to tell them about Jesus.’
“I realized then if you’re gonna say it, you have got to be it.”
He said he was never a heavy partier because he was an athlete and didn’t want to harm his body or his chances to be competitive. Nonetheless, he knew he needed to be more committed to his Christian life. “I just had to get real.”
The death of his mother when he was 34 “changed my whole world,” said Calloway. “My mom was my everything.” (His father died when Sam was 9). When she passed, he realized he should have spent more time with her rather than working too many hours. Calloway admits he even considered suicide when she passed away because he didn’t think he could go on without her.
“The only thing that helped me was the Lord,” Calloway said. “I prayed and he told me, ‘I’ll be your mother. I’ll be your father.’
“To this moment, everything I do is to make my mom proud of me. Everything. I don’t want her to be disappointed. She’s my motivation.”
Born on Tuesday, April 14, 1958, at Oak Hill Hospital, Calloway grew up in Oak Hill, first attending Harlem Heights Elementary in the pre-integration days. He moved on to attend Rosedale Elementary, one of the schools at which he later taught. Calloway was a member of the Collins High School Class of 1976, the final graduating class before the school changed over to Oak Hill High. At Collins, he was a standout basketball and track and field athlete and ran one year of cross-country.
He then enrolled at Montgomery’s West Virginia Institute of Technology, at which he sheepishly admitted it took him 5 1/2 years to complete his degree with a double-teaching major of physical education and social studies. At Tech, Calloway played basketball for a year under coach Pete Phillips, and he was a hurdler and sprinter for coach Roy Lucas for four years on the Golden Bear track and field squad.
Fast forward, and Calloway is now in his 40th year as a school teacher. He also oversees Spirit and Truth Ministries, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Sept. 29.
Calloway taught 34 years of elementary school PE for Fayette County Schools, finishing up at New River Elementary. He’s now in his sixth year of helping K-10 students at Mountain View Christian School in Hilltop to keep their bodies physically fit.
“I’ll probably end up doing 50 years, probably do 10 more,” he said. He says he’s mentored “up in the thousands” of children over the years, and one of the joys of teaching is “they still know me.”
Several of the all-grown-up children he taught in the 1980s and 1990s — and in some cases their children — are in the Spirit and Truth Ministries congregation today.
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Spirit and Truth Ministries “started in my living room, with about 12 people,” Calloway recalls.
“My wife (Lana, Calloway’s wife of 28 years) named it; she found that scripture (John 4:24) and said this is the name, and I said OK,” he said.
John 4:24, KJV, reads: “God is a Spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
After its infancy, the church later moved to a building owned by a local businessman. “Thank God for Tom Louisos; I owe him a debt of respect,” said Calloway.
The church then relocated to its present downtown site 14 years ago.
“On a good day, we have 150 (parishioners),” said Calloway. “We get a lot of kids.
“Our congregation is so diverse, not just culture-wise.”
Many drive in from a distance for midweek and Sunday morning services, he said.
Spirit and Truth is a nondenominational church.
“I try to preach the kingdom of God,” said Calloway. “When you say that, that opens the door to include anybody.
“A (particular) denomination wants to preach a church. Regardless of where you came from, what you’re doing, what you’re struggling with, we want you to be included.”
Over the years, Calloway has performed evangelistic services at numerous churches. “I preached my first message at Deepwater Methodist,” he said. “I preached a lot at Fayetteville Presbyterian.”
He also delivered sermons in more than a dozen churches in Summersville. He still does some evangelism, but “I try to stay home now.”
As a bishop overseeing Spirit and Truth Ministries, Calloway has trained 40 or more ministers. “I trained them, licensed them, ordained them and sent them on their way.” Several of them are still at the church and share pulpit duties with him.
The church’s weekly services include Wednesday outreach with children and teenagers, as well as adult Bible study. Freedom Ministry is held on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. for those struggling with various issues. The Sunday morning service caps off the week.
The affiliated Good Samaritan Center is open for locals to purchase clothing on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and also one Saturday per month. Everything is $1, except for baby clothes, which are 25 cents.
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So, what has Oak Hill meant to one of its favorite sons?
“Growing up, I never dreamed that I would always be here,” said Calloway. “People don’t understand how much I really love Oak Hill (the size, the people and other factors).
“I’ve gotten to love it because it’s part of what I do, trying to win people to the Lord here and work with people in the community, connecting with all the businesses.”
Communing with longtime friends — past and present — helped nurture his love for his hometown and allows it to continue. “It’s the people, Larry Harding, Gary Harding, Coach (Jim) Lilly, people like that I’ve gotten to know and been friends with. The fellowship with my classmates from high school, Diane Janney, Tom Booth, Larry Canterbury. ... It’s almost like an extended family.”
Calloway has a daughter, Leslie, and three grandchildren. “She went to Woodrow, but I won’t hold that against her,” he says with a smile.
He spent 16 years as the head track and field coach at Oak Hill High School, mentoring several state champions along the way. Calloway was also the OHHS girls head basketball coach for 13 years, and he spent nine years on the bench as an assistant with coaches Jim Lilly, Ron Lewis and Fred Ferri. “I owe them a debt of gratitude for letting me sit there with them. I learned a lot.”
Calloway will be enshrined in the Collins/Oak Hill High Red Devil Sports Hall of Fame in September.
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