Mike Coffee hasn’t missed Sunday school since 1968. That’s a streak of 54 years and counting for the 62-year-old Greenup County man in Wurtland, Kentucky.
“I just thank the Lord. It starts with him,” said Coffee, a day after being recognized at Wurtland Missionary Baptist, the only church he’s ever attended. “Everybody gives me credit, but I give Him the praise. He gives me the energy to get out of bed each day.”
Wurtland Missionary Baptist Church Pastor J.R. Gullett recognized Coffee and invited Brian Horton, associational mission strategist for the Greenup Baptist Association, to speak on a day when Gullett was emphasizing the importance of Sunday school to the church.
Wurtland voted to renovate Sunday school rooms in an expectation of growth.
What Gullet didn’t know was that Horton’s father, Bobby, had a streak of 55 years attending Sunday school in South Carolina. It was like a déjà vu moment for Horton.
“His streak ended in January 2020, about nine weeks before my mother died,” Horton said. “He was taking her to church, and she was in her last stages of Alzheimer’s. But she got sick one Saturday night and he couldn’t go (the next day). He called me and said, ‘Well, it’s over.’’’
Coffee said he has gone to Sunday school like clockwork, although he almost got caught by the clock one Sunday during a time change. He showed up at 9:30, thinking it was 8:30, but the class didn’t start until 9:40. He said he’s never been too sick to make it to Sunday school. Although, “I may have had a slight fever a few times,” he said.
He said the late Bill Vallance was the pastor when he started, and he made a profession of faith under his leadership as well in 1974.
Of course, the church didn’t have Sunday school during a large stretch of the pandemic. “We didn’t have church during COVID so you can’t hold that against a fella,” he said.
Coffee said he never vacations, so that hasn’t been a problem either. Aside from the days during the COVID-19 pandemic when the church didn’t meet, he has been to Sunday school for more than an astounding 2,800 consecutive weeks.
Horton said when his family went on vacation they attended a church — and Sunday school. His father would have the Sunday school teacher sign a bulletin, which he gave to his church Sunday school director for verification that he didn’t miss Sunday school while away.
“When he hit the 50-year mark, I cornered Thom Rainier at a convention, and he gave me his secretary’s email address and told me to let him know when the event got closer,” Horton said. “He sent a nice letter, David Francis sent a plaque, Rick Howerton wrote a letter and Dad got something from the South Carolina Baptist Convention.”
Horton’s father is 86 and still attends Sunday school and church regularly.
Horton said he preached Sunday morning on the importance of Sunday School — or whatever a church decides to call it — and wanted to make it a focus area next year for the Greenup Baptist Association. Wurtland’s congregation committed to the renovation and reorganization on Sunday as well, Horton said.
“If you’re coming to church for the first time, where are you going to be the most comfortable?” Horton said. “In a big room where everybody is spread out or in a small classroom with a cup of coffee with people from the community?”
‘Entry point for lost people’
Darryl Wilson, a Kentucky Baptist Convention Sunday School and Discipleship consultant, led a Sunday school workshop, a benefit of the Cooperative Program, in the area recently and several teachers from Wurtland attended. They were moved to action, Horton said.
“Sunday school covers all five purposes of the church,” Horton said. “It’s an entry point for lost people, how you get deep in doctrine and theology, how you have true fellowship, how you serve the church and how you lead people into worship. My focus will be on helping churches strategize ways to work through Sunday school.”
Gullett told Coffee he had something for him on Sunday and would get it to him later. The recognition doesn’t matter, Coffee said.
“I think my mom and dad led me in the right way,” he said. “If the doors are open, I’m going to do my best to be there.”
Coffee’s perfect attendance over 54 years has proven that to be true. It started during the last year of LBJ’s presidency and a year before the Moon landing. And it has no end in sight.