Preacher father and four preacher sons

By Curtis K. Shelburne: CNJ columnist

People are sometimes surprised when they learn that I am not only a minister, I am the son of a minister and the brother of three ministers.

You should have been at the wedding when my widower father in his eighties married a slightly older but wonderful woman. There we were–one preacher father, pretty sure he knew how to conduct a proper wedding, himself getting married.

Four preacher sons, each one pretty sure he knew how to conduct a proper wedding, jointly conducting the service. It’s a wonder the wedding ended while the bride and groom were both still breathing.

Of the five kids in our family, four of us went into the ministry. The other one probably would have and might have been spared a good bit of emotional suffering if we’d been part of a denomination that allowed women to preach. (For pay, that is. Ask any of our guys. Our gals preach for free all the time.) As it was, our sis, though she could hold her own just fine preaching with (and to) the best preacher you ever saw, was by fate denied official ordination. She over-compensated by beating the socks off of all comers academically, being her university’s valedictorian, and generally achieving far more than is good for you.

Folks often remark how unusual it is that all four of a preacher’s sons also entered the ministry. I think one reason is that Mom and Dad didn’t particularly expect us to. Being free not to, we found ourselves free in a different and agreeable way. Dad was good at what he did, loved what he did, endured a lot of pain to do what he did, was greatly respected for all of the above, and, most of all, was completely devoted to the One he did it for. The fact that my two older brothers opted for professional ministry a good while before my younger brother and I faced the same choice also meant that quite a trail was already blazed.

In my early years in ministry, I spent a good bit of time wondering if I’d become a minister just because it was sort of the family business. Eventually, I learned the answer and have found peace in afflicting longsuffering church members now for many years.

I just thought I had a choice. One look at my closet and you’ll know I never really did. It’s just not possible to have that many sweater vests and not be a minister. I decided a long time ago that I really wanted to, and that if folks would just let me preach the good news of God’s Son, I didn’t care too much about the details on the church sign. If the sign of the Cross is stamped on folks’ hearts first, the brand name on the sign tends to take a well-deserved much lower priority. I’ve kept preaching. It would be a shame to waste all those sweater vests.

By the way, it’s not the Good News, but it is good news to guys like me that sweaters pretty much transcend denominational lines. Dear Mr. Rogers who blessed so many children was an ordained Presbyterian minister. The stuff about him once being a Navy Seal or a Marine sniper is not true. He was just a kind, gentle man who evidently one day felt led to put on a sweater, and ordination soon followed.

Sweaters will do that. My dad had a closet full, too.