At Lunch With Wayne Scott:
Planter of seeds
By Annette Bender
Scott Farm and its founder, Wayne Scott, is known for the acres and acres of tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, cucumbers, squash and corn harvested in Unicoi, Tenn., each year.
Yet on the day he lunches at Sunny's Cafeteria in Johnson City, Scott doesn't choose any of those vegetables. He dines on coleslaw and a few other small side dishes, explaining that he ate a late breakfast.
At 79, the former schoolteacher has been a member of Unicoi United Methodist Church since 1958. He has known many Holston pastors and can summarize their personalities and accomplishments with one or two phrases.
Today, he's explaining why he built a chapel for Hispanic migrant workers in the early 1990s - long before Holston Conference began building ministries for Spanish speakers in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia.
"We brought the first Hispanics to Unicoi in 1973," says Scott, referring to the farm work from which he is now retired. His children currently run the 46-year-old company, which employs six full-time and 200 seasonal workers.
"That first year, we had maybe 15 workers from Mexico. But as our business expanded, we hired more people." Scott built camp houses for his seasonal employees and his wife, Mary Lou, who died in June, hung curtains and nursed the workers when they were sick.
In the 1980s, Scott approached a Johnson City priest about welcoming his workers into the congregation, since most of them were Roman Catholic.
"He didn't seem particularly interested," says Scott. "It surprised me. He was elderly - didn't seem to have a lot of drive or energy to work with them."
But then a younger Catholic man "from the seminary" started to visit the people who came each year to pick strawberries and green beans. One day, Scott noticed that a religious meeting held in the farm's packinghouse included 65-70 people.
Scott decided that "if there was that kind of interest in meeting, they needed a place to worship."
Scott Farm built a chapel on the premises, and the Catholic church eventually helped put in tile, furniture and air conditioning. Today, the chapel remains nondenominational but is attended mostly by Catholics. On the Sunday before his lunch at Sunny's Cafeteria, Scott witnessed a first communion service outside the chapel, attended by 300.
Now that about 35 Hispanic families from his farm have settled in the Unicoi area, Scott wants to help his own church develop its Hispanic ministry. On Saturday nights, he and his pastor, the Rev. Dennis Loy, get pizza for the 50 Hispanic children who attend Bible study at Unicoi UMC.
Although his pastors tell stories about his generosity - providing support for Unicoi ministries as well as Holston Home for Children - Scott won't confirm those stories. He cites scripture in which Jesus says, "Go into the closet and pray," then moves on to how he hopes his church will serve the people he has come to love.
"I was talking to Dennis the other day," says Scott. "He said we shouldn't try to convert Roman Catholics into United Methodists, but to help them be better Roman Catholics."
Scott pauses on Loy's words before adding, "We have an opportunity in the Methodist church to work with these people and show them we are interested in them. They worship Jesus Christ just like we do. We should be there from the word 'go.'"
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