Bert E. Wheeler, my wife’s father, was a major influence on
my ministry. He moved his family
from Michigan to Florida when Doris was 10 years old, and made a home for them
in what was then called Uleta, and now is North Miami Beach. In Michigan he was a farmer; in Florida he worked at various jobs.
Bert and his wife came to Florida as evangelical Quakers. Not finding a Friends church nearby, they became members of the Church of the Nazarene. The Lord had called him to preach, and he pastored churches in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. His pastorates were of brief duration, usually two to four years. He pastored one church twice, and another three times, for he was always well loved and deeply respected by those he served.
Bert was handicapped by lack of formal schooling. He studied hard, but always found mental labors tougher than physical labors. A big, strong man, he could do a block mason’s work with readier expertise and endurance than he could turn pages and digest knowledge from books. He did the best he could with the resources he had, and no church or life was ever touched by him without being bettered.
He was my second pastor. When I was called to preach my first pastor gave me no encouragement whatever. He told the people I wasn’t really called to preach and didn’t have what it took to become a preacher. I confess there have been times when I blundered along in the pulpit like a sad fulfillment of his negative prophecy.
But Bert Wheeler believed that God had called me. He invited me to come to Bartow, Florida, where he was then serving, and preach my first sermon on Palm Sunday, 1941. I preached poorly, but it launched a ministry of gospel preaching that has continued steadily until now.
When he returned to pastor the Uleta church he encouraged me further. One day he said, “God has called you to preach, and you will never learn to preach without preaching.” At his invitation I preached my first revival meeting, alternating the pulpit with another young man Bert was helping along also. I did some decidedly eccentric preaching, but In that first revival my mother and my sister found Christ, together with some other converts who became “pillars” of that church.
Men and boys in the community who were not Christians, as well as those who were, loved Bert Wheeler. A group of them would frequently drop by his house, saying, “Come on, Preacher, We’re going to play ball.”He would grab his glove and share the game with zest. He was “a man’s man” but never guilty of any macho strutting. He used to make trips from Michigan to Florida on an ancient Harley Davidson motorcycle, back when good roads were rare travel luxuries. Those who spent hours with him at work and at play never heard tainted conversation from his lips. He nearly always told new congregations that his ears were not garbage dumps; he would not listen to gossip. He made no moral compromises to win anybody’s favor, but he was always immensely well liked. Integrity was a word constantly applicable to him.
He and Mildred were both working for Champion Spark Plug Company when they married. After he found the Lord he returned some tools he had taken from the plant, confessed the theft, apologized and testified for Christ. I was on a train once, headed for a revival meeting, and a well-dressed man asked if he could share my table in the dining car. While we ate he told me he was an executive with Champion. I related my father-in-law’s story of making restitution for those purloined tools after becoming a Christian. The man was surprised and impressed. Many employees stole, he said, but to his knowledge none had ever made their thefts right. Before departing he handed me a ten-dollar bill and told me to put it in the revival offering. He wanted to share an enterprise that could produce a man like Bert Wheeler. That was back when ten dollars was a generous offering.
In Uleta Bert began his preaching on Sunday mornings in the community center. That required some early morning cleanups after Saturday night parties, dances, and other activities had been staged there. When some persons objected to the building being used for church services, he didn’t contend with them. Instead, he announced one Sunday morning, “Any of you who would like to help start a Church of the Nazarene, meet at my house next Sunday morning.”Over sixty people crowded into his modest home! Before long a lot was purchased and a tent erected, which led soon to the construction of a small frame church and parsonage.
This tough but tender ex-Marine was never fully comfortable in formal situations. When I married Doris, he officiated at the ceremony. The church was packed, for the whole community loved Doris. I never saw Bert so nervous before or after. He read the marriage ceremony from the Manual of the church, but he sounded like he was reading from the Greek New Testament.
My father was not a Christian and rarely attended a church service, but he held Bert Wheeler in high esteem. In the providence of God he and mother moved to the country in north Florida and for years they lived across the road from the Suwannee River Church of the Nazarene, pastored three times by Bert. Dad was saved one Sunday morning in one of our Gainesville, Florida churches. I was there to dedicate my sister’s baby and to preach. While mine was the joy of preaching the gospel message to which Dad responded, I know that much of the preparation for that moment was done through years of friendship from Bert Wheeler.
I never knew a better man than my father-in-law. I learned that he once had a bad temper. When a balky tractor refused to start, he took a heavy wrench and beat the engine housing down to the engine. He was as rough on horses, and once delivered a knock down blow to the head of a farm horse that was stubbornly disobedient. I never knew that Bert Wheeler. He had been transformed and gentled by the Christ who saved him from sin. I knew him as a living demonstration of the message of holiness that he faithfully proclaimed.
To Bert Wheeler I owe an eternal debt. My ministry began at his invitation and encouragement, and his ministry was extended and expanded through my own across many years. He took quiet joy in what I achieved and made an investment in me that I believe, by the grace of God, was richly repaid. My memories of him challenge me to be a better man and minister.
I met Jim Hamilton when he was the young pastor of our Murray Hill church in Jacksonville, Florida. I liked him at once and the longer I knew him the more affection and respect I felt for him. He became one of those rare friends that a man could visit with briefly, not see him again for years, and still feel as close to as if he lived next door. He never realized how strong and good his influence was upon my life and work.
Jim called me to conduct revival services at that Jacksonville church, and there our acquaintance ripened into friendship. He honored me by calling me for revivals in all the churches he served as pastor.
His next charge was in Delta, Colorado on the Western Slope of the Rockies. I took a train to Grand Junction Colorado, and Jim met me there and drove me to Delta. Due to a train schedule snafu, I had missed the opening service of the revival, and Jim had to preach. Riding toward Delta I asked, “What did you preach about tonight?”He replied, “Bill, did you know that Daniel killed Goliath? Throughout my sermon I kept saying Daniel when I meant David.”
When I was with him in Delta, I was thirty years old and had never seen snow. The meeting was in November and I told the congregation that I was praying for snow. To a person they said, “We might get some light snows out on the mesas, but not in town—too early for that.” On a Friday snow covered the town, to my delight.
While serving in Delta Jim took further college work in extension classes at nearby Montrose. I urged him to keep that up, believing that his future would probably lie in the field of education. His next move was to Englewood, and there he completed a doctoral program at Denver University. When I preached in revival services at Englewood, the respect and affection of the congregation for him was highly evident. He had few if any peers as a compassionate, devoted pastor and preacher.
While I was serving as a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia he became chaplain/teacher at our Pasadena College in California. He phoned me one day and invited me to fly to California and preach Holy Week services at the college. I grabbed the opportunity for I love to preach and I wanted to see Jim.
On Friday I flew home, not expecting or caring to set foot in California again. To my great surprise, in February, 1969 I received an invitation to join the faculty of Pasadena College. After much prayer, and after seeking counsel from some trusted friends, I felt clear to accept the challenge. Among letters of advice that I had received when struggling with the decision, none excelled that of Jim’s for clear and common sense analysis of the situation. Certainly, one of the benefits I looked forward to the most was the privilege of working with him and seeing him almost daily.
Alas! It was not to be. When I began my teaching ministry at Pasadena College he began his with Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He was a professor there until his retirement. Once again I only saw my friend on infrequent occasions, but those were a special joy.
When I moved to the Kansas City area in 1978, to serve as editor of our denominational magazine, the Herald of Holiness, we were finally on the same turf, for the Seminary was adjacent to our International Headquarters where I parked my local hindquarters. We even played golf together a couple of times! Both of us were better at our vocations than our avocations, but we had lots of fun doing something with less than professional ability.
In addition to his teaching and preaching, Jim also had a private counseling service as a psychologist. Several times I suggested that I become one of his clients, but he never consented. Either he thought I was jesting, or else he figured I was a hopeless case better left alone.
After I retired, Doris and I were summoned to serve as interim pastor at our Kent Washington church for several weeks. That proved to be one of the happiest times of our lives. Shortly after arriving there, the church had a family camp on beautiful Whidby Island. To my huge delight Jim was the speaker for that retreat, and every message was vintage Hamilton.
After his retirement, Jim was responsible for having me twice called to preach in a camp meeting held annually on the western slope of the Rockies near his home. Those were precious times to me for we had been widely separated again. He knew I was an early riser, and breakfast was not served until eight o’clock. Every morning he knocked on my door with a cup of fresh hot coffee for me. He is that kind of person.
Not long after Jim retired, his wife Dorothy died, leaving him alone in their lovely retirement home. I have a copy of the tribute he paid to her at the funeral—a warm, witty, loving tribute that makes you smile through tears.
In October, 2000 Jim conducted a Family Life Conference for our little church here in Gainesville, Georgia where I live. Our pastor was eager to have Jim, for he attended our Seminary and had classes with Jim. He knew Jim’s wisdom, wit and worth. Of course, I was on cloud nine when he came. I thought of the “Conference” as a revival meeting. It had that effect on most of our people. Every message Jim preached was on target, practical and helpful. Doris and I had the joy of keeping him at our house, and sharing meals, auto rides, and conversations with him. Telling him goodbye when the too-brief meeting ended was hard on my old heart.
He called me one day to tell me that he was happily married again. I’m glad, for it seems to me that the wide-open Western spaces he loves would accent a man’s loneliness.
No man has had a more helpful, challenging and salutary influence on my life and work—and he seems surprised that this should be so. He is a man of unimpeachable integrity. He is genuinely humble but never obsequious. He is not impressed with titles and easily sees through stuffed shirts and bloated egos. He is pure gold in every way that really matters.
I got acquainted with William “Bill” Greathouse when he was president of Trevecca Nazarene College. For a number of years I was on the board of trustees for the college, and would see him annually at board meetings and occasionally at other college functions.
He had been a professor of theology there and had established a well-deserved reputation as a gentleman and a scholar. His expertise in the teaching of John Wesley was especially remarkable. He invested years in pastoral ministry, also, and his messages, in content and structure, were excellent. Best of all, he united ability, integrity and humility in an admirable combination.
During the time that he was writing his first commentary on Romans, I was a pastor in Atlanta. He flabbergasted me by asking me to read and critique his work—me, who knew less in ten years than he did in ten minutes! As it happened I also had some library resources on Romans that he did not have, and I gladly supplied them to him. Sometimes I would meet him at the Atlanta airport when he was changing planes and had an hour or two between flights. What joy to discuss biblical theology with him—and with what benefit to me!
The time came when he said, “I want you to teach at Trevecca. ”We pursued the idea a number of times and I was honored and excited that he would want me on his faculty. About the time our plans were coming into focus he was “kicked upstairs”—elected president of Nazarene Theology Seminary. That ended my dream of teaching at Trevecca.
When I did begin teaching at Pasadena College in California (now Point Loma Nazarene University) I learned from President Shelburne Brown and division chairman Frank Carver that Dr. Greathouse had strongly recommended me. His interest and confidence in me were humbling and challenging. My journal entry for March 17, 1969 closes with this statement:“Today I decided to accept the teaching post at Pasadena College. The die is cast.”The entry for March 18 begins, “At the office today I found a letter from Dr. Greathouse urging me to accept Pasadena College’s offer. He strongly feels the need ‘to produce Bible preachers. ’That he thinks I can help do so is encouraging.”I did not know then that he had earlier talked with Brown and Carver, urging them to recruit me for their faculty.
In 1965 Trevecca conferred an honorary doctorate on me. I knew that Dr. Greathouse played a major role in the board’s decision. Usually those honors went to district superintendents, and I asked him if they had run out of superintendents that year. He assured me that the degree was in recognition of my academic abilities, not a reward for effective church politics. Even that did not prepare me to imagine that he would commend me to the California school.
After he took the reins of the Seminary, from time to time I would see him or Dean Willard Taylor, and they would say, “We want to bring you to the Seminary to teach. ”The idea was enormously attractive to me. Once again, however, the dream was dissipated—Dr. Greathouse was elected General Superintendent. I told him afterwards, “Every time they kick you upstairs it drops me downstairs.”
Shortly after I went to Pasadena College, he visited the campus. He had accepted the task of editing a twelve volume set of “Beacon Bible Expositions,” and had asked me to write the volume on Romans. Theologian Kenneth Grider had said, “You must really rate high with him. I’m sure he picked the writer for this volume with tweezers, for Romans is his special interest.”But that day in California, he asked, “Have you started writing on Romans yet?”I confessed that I had gathered some materials and studied some resources but had not begun writing.“I want to ask you a favor,” he said.“I was going to do the volume on Matthew and I have been too busy to get going with it. Since I did the commentary on Romans it would be easier and quicker for me to write expositions of Romans. Would you consider trading assignments and doing Matthew?”I agreed to the swap. For him I would have done most anything short of crossing the ocean in a leaky canoe.
When I moved to Kansas to serve as editor of the Herald of Holiness I knew in my heart, before learning in fact, that Greathouse had a lot to do with my nomination to that post. In all those years, however, he never once told me that he had boosted me for any of those significant assignments. He never so much as hinted that I owed him any favors for his frequent recommendations. That reticence is typical of the genuine Christian spirit of this great man.
When I retired after thirteen years as editor, I was given a check for one thousand dollars from the General Board. Dr. Greathouse made a speech in which he said, “Bill McCumber stands ten feet tall.”I told them Doris could have the check. I wanted a framed copy of Dr. Greathouse’s remark. I’ve been the runt of the litter all my life, just five feet seven.
I only wish that in retirement we lived near each other, for there is much that I could learn yet from one of the premiere teachers in the Wesleyan tradition. I’ve never known a man who wore the mantle of greatness more quietly and unassumingly than he does. He has been, intellectually and spiritually, one of the major shaping influences upon my life and work.
One night I had a surprise phone call from him. He said, "I'm calling some of the persons who have had a major influence on my life." I was almost stunned to be included in such a group. He told me he had just finished a manuscript, a new commentary on Romans. Not long ago I received from the publisher a copy of the two-volume commentary. I have read it through, underlining the more significant passages, as Charlie Brown said. I plan to chat with Dr. Greathouse about it in heaven, but I will have to wait a while. He will be somewhere talking to the Apostle Paul about his letter to the Romans or talking to John Wesley about his doctrine of holiness.
After I found Christ and began preaching, one of my finest friends was Raymond Frost, a big fellow from Alabama. At the time I met him Raymond was a railroad engineer and he and his family attended our Uleta church. Raymond was also an ordained elder and an eloquent, compassionate preacher.
When I took my first pastorate I had Raymond come for revival services. On arriving he said, “Bill, let’s go to town. I have to buy some trousers.” We went to a number of stores before he finally found a pair that would fit. He would walk into a store and ask the owner or clerk, “Do you have a pair of pants big enough to fit a man?” One store owner asked, “How big is that?” Raymond laughed and said, “Forty-six waist.”The owner replied, “That’s not man-size, that’s mule-size.”
When I was a member of my father-in-law’s country church in North Florida, Raymond came there for a revival. Doris and I attended every service, for I had no meeting scheduled at the time. God blessed the earnest and eloquent preaching, and a number of people found Christ. Among them was Henry Cooper, a farmer’s son, who was later called to preach and had a long and fruitful ministry as a pastor until his great heart failed and he went home to be with the Lord.
When I was serving our church in Arcadia, Florida I engaged Raymond Frost as an evangelist, teamed with Charles Crauswell. They were both from the same area of Alabama and had been friends for many years. That meeting was interrupted by a hurricane. Charles, who pastored in Princeton, Florida, was quite familiar with hurricanes, and stayed with us in the parsonage. Raymond chose to flee north, to outrun the storm and find safety. I can still see him at the wheel of his car, looking at us just before he pulled out, and saying anxiously, “You fellows better come with me.” He looked scared and was scared.
Raymond had a keen sense of humor. He saw the funny side of even starchy people. More important, he could laugh at himself. He became a diabetic and had to give himself injections of insulin. That big man was afraid of little needles. He said, “Bill, I backed myself clear out the house three times before I finally put that needle under my skin.”
He and his wife Laura had known real heartache. One of their children, when just five years old, was playing near the street on which they lived. A man driving past was blinded by the setting sun and struck and killed little “Bum,” as the parents had nicknamed the boy. Years later when Raymond would speak of the tragedy the tears would wash his cheeks. He was an affectionate man.
In terms of preaching ability I would place him on a level with the best I’ve ever heard. As a warm-hearted older friend, he stood even taller.
John McKay was a missionary to India for years. When he returned to the U. S. he served as a faithful pastor. I got acquainted with him when he served our church in Princeton, Florida in the 1950s.He kindly and bravely invited me to conduct revival services there. I roomed at the parsonage. Every night, after service, we would sit at a table in the kitchen eating oatmeal and toast. John, who was from Scotland, called it “porridge.”His wife Mary would prepare and serve the porridge, then tell us goodnight and turn in. He and I would converse, sometimes for two or more hours. He told me a lot about their missionary work in India.
I don’t recall much about the meeting, but two things have stuck in my memory. One, the youth of the church had an all night prayer meeting following the Friday service. John McKay was a firm believer in prayer. I was amused during the night to watch some of the teens valiantly fight sleep and try to stay alert in prayer, only to nod off in the midst of their intercession. The other thing I recall is that John took a deep personal interest in my career and sought to encourage me. He said, “The church is going to discover you one of these days and your opportunities for ministry will be multiplied.”That did happen, and God has been pleased to bless and use me as a pastor, revivalist, college teacher, radio speaker, writer and editor. How much I owe to the loving prayers of John McKay I cannot know, but I’m sure they were a major factor in my development and achievements.
In the providence of God, which often takes surprising twists, Myron Wise, who married Betty McKay, became pastor of the Princeton church, and he called me to preach revival services there. He and Betty were gracious hosts. I’ve had the privilege of preaching revival services at our Dublin, Georgia church for pastor Wise on several occasions. While he was serving in Tennessee I edited a manuscript for him, an exploration of the concept of “glory” in the Bible. That bonded us even closer. He felt indebted to me, but I owed him more for the intellectual and spiritual benefit I gained from reading his manuscript.
After John died, Mary lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee and was a member of Grace church there. Doris and I had children and grandchildren in that church and when we visited them and shared the Sunday services we got to see Mary.
I can close my eyes now and hear the deep voice of John McKay with its thick Scottish burr, proclaiming the gospel and pleading for missions as he did deputation work in our churches. He was a holy man, fully devoted and committed to Christ, and to remember him is to feel challenged anew to be a better person and better preacher myself. When John comes to mind, I always wonder how many preachers and laypersons have been impacted, as I have been, by the spirit, the faith, and the love of John and Mary McKay. Their number must be legion.
During some of the years I pastored at Thomasville, Georgia, the pastor at Cairo, fifteen miles away, was Paul Barnes. We became and remained good friends. Paul was one of the funniest fellows I ever knew, the kind of man who could be almost hilariously funny when he wasn’t trying to be funny. He was just being himself.
With several other pastors, he and I were having lunch in Lanette, Alabama at the Holiday Inn. The waitress brought our tossed salads to the table. Paul looked at his, which was noticeably smaller than the others, and asked the young woman, “Did you toss this salad yourself?”“Yes, I did,” she replied, “Is something wrong?” “When you tossed it,” Paul lamented, “you should have waited for all of it to come down.”
When our twins were small they loved Paul. They called him “Doc.”When he would drive into our yard they would come running to the house, exclaiming, “Doc’s here! Doc’s here!”He never left without saying “Come go home with me”—an old Southern custom. The little guys always took the invitation seriously, and when we said, “No,” they would wail from broken hearts. I finally threatened to kill Paul if he didn’t stop issuing that ersatz invitation.
I worked with Paul when he contracted to paint the historic Three Toms Inn in Thomasville. On that job I learned that he was a patient man. We were on the same scaffold, painting the south wall of the building. I was enjoying the sunny day and humming a tune as I moved the brush back and forth. Suddenly Paul said, “McCumber, stop flipping the brush.” I looked at him and his face and glasses were speckled with white paint. He had endured it silently until it became hard to see what he was doing because I spattered him so steadily.
While we were neighboring pastors, Paul was struggling with the course of study. He asked if I would help him one evening a week, and I agreed to be his mentor. Sometimes it was fun, always it was work, and now and then it would place me on the edge of distraction. He wanted to argue with every page he read. I kept telling him, “Paul, the examiners don’t care whether you agree with these scholars or not. They want to know that you understand what the writers are saying. You won’t have to prove or disprove their positions.”He forged ahead, not always at full steam, and got through the course. He was ordained at the district assembly in 1955.After the service he came to me and said, “McCumber, you should have been the one to lay hands on me. If you hadn’t helped me I would never have finished that course.”I said, “Paul, if I ever lay hands on you it won’t be to ordain you.”He would have made it without my help, for he was smart, but it would have taken him more time and given him less joy.
While he was incurably funny most of the time, he was never a clown in the pulpit. He preached revival services for me at Thomasville, and he brought some choice messages, solid and serious and searching. He did us good. I also preached in revival services at his pastorates in Cairo, Augusta and Ft. Valley, Georgia and in Louisville, Kentucky.
One night I was visiting a friend who had a bakery in Thomasville when a customer came in and said, “Did you hear about that Nazarene pastor in Cairo ?He got drunk and beat up his wife. They’ve got him in jail.” Paul’s wife was a sweet and gentle and friendly person, and no one would ever rough her up unless he was drunk or crazy. I told the man he had to be mistaken, but he swore it was “the God’s truth.”I jumped in my car and drove to the parsonage in Cairo. There sat Paul and Ruth, like two lovers, in the porch swing.“Mc Cumber!” he exclaimed, “what brings you over here tonight?”
“When did you get out of jail?” I asked. I told him the news that had reached me, and he started laughing.“Does Ruth look beat up to you?”He and I made inquiries and discovered that another of our pastors, whose church was at Whigham but who lived in Cairo, had indeed hit the bottle and was in jail for beating his wife. Paul chuckled for years over my hasty trip to investigate the matter.
Speaking of sweet and gentle Ruth, one day Paul was grunting and groaning and breathing with difficulty because of broken ribs. He had been on the floor doing some exercises when Ruth appeared at the door to the room, saw him, yelled “Geronimo!” and dove on him like a wrestler seeking to pin the opponent. That was so out of character that we could scarcely believe it happened, even when she confessed that it was true.I said, “Well, a fellow that gets drunk and beats his wife deserves a few broken ribs of his own.”
Paul had an unfortunate experience in Alabama. A black woman began to attend his services and one Sunday went to the altar, wept, confessed, believed and was beautifully saved. After a few weeks went by she requested membership in the church. Some of the board, not delivered from racist and bigoted attitudes, wanted to thumbs down the request. Paul took her into the church and they put him out of the church.
I never admired him more than I did for the stand he took on that issue. He would not sacrifice moral convictions in order to be accepted or retained by those who did not share them.
When I retired and moved back to Georgia, I was looking forward to seeing him quite often. Alas, he had, for economic reasons, moved to Clermont, Florida. But his son-in-law, Gerald Woods, became pastor of our Winter Haven church, and toward the end of life Paul had all his children within a few miles of his home. That was a source of tremendous comfort to him and Ruth.
His life ended in an Orlando hospital on Sunday, June 21, 2000.Shortly before he had called me a couple times to assure me of his prayers when I was recovering from open-heart surgery. Actually, he was worse off than I was. He had been suffering terribly from infected lungs and a bad heart. His passing brought deep sorrow to all who loved him, but brought a merciful end to the agony he was undergoing. Doris and I drove to Winter Haven, where I brought a message to family and friends gathered for a memorial service.
At that service I met a young man who had placed a lighted candle next to a picture of Paul on the table that stood in front of the pulpit. The family told me that this young fellow had been a patient in the hospital, and shared the room with Paul. His life was nearly ruined by sin, but Paul won him to Christ. The candle was a symbol of his gratitude to God for the man who had brought the gospel to him.
Had there been time to inform and await others, most of the preachers Paul had known would have been there, for they all loved this genial servant of Christ. I look forward to seeing him again in heaven, where, I am sure, he already has lots of angels in stitches, laughing as they have never laughed before.
When I served our Arcadia, Florida church Glenn and Frances Roberson were in the congregation, one of the couples who frequently met at the parsonage for “snacking and yakking” after Sunday night services. We became good friends and spent some happy times together fishing and picnicking along Horse Creek. They had one child, an adopted daughter, Diane.
God used my preaching and pastoral care to reach Frances for Christ. She became a lovely Christian woman.
Glenn was a big, strong fellow, heavily muscled and deeply tanned from the hard work of cutting and hauling timber. One day Frances called me, told me that Glenn was sick abed and wanted to talk to me. I hurried to their apartment and took a chair beside his bed.“What’s wrong, big guy?”
Somewhat to my surprise, he replied, “Conviction. Bill, I’m under awful conviction for sin. It has made me physically sick. I can’t eat, can’t sleep, and can’t work.”
“If conviction is your illness,” I told him, “forgiveness is your medicine.”
“I know,” he said, “that’s why I sent for you. I need to get saved.”
We prayed together and I quoted promises of salvation for him to believe. Before I left he testified that the Lord had forgiven his sins.
The next morning I visited them early to get them started at family devotions. He immediately returned to work.
I don’t know what happened, but Glenn drifted away from Christ and over the years became a heavy drinker and an abusive husband. Frances grew discouraged and suffered a spiritual lapse as a result. I was called to the Arcadia church for revival services in 1966, when Earl Rowan was the pastor. Directing the music was my close friend Howard Melton, then pastor of our church in Punta Gorda. During that meeting I counseled with Frances, who was in the pit of despair and desperation. She wept and prayed and seemed to find a new peace with God.
I had become pastor of our Atlanta, Georgia First church. One Sunday morning, as our family of seven was preparing for church services, the doorbell rang. There stood Frances, unannounced and unexpected but abundantly welcome. She shared the morning worship with us, and then returned with us to the parsonage for dinner. After we had eaten and the family had dispersed, she wanted to talk to me privately.
Her first words were startling:“Bill, Glenn is going to kill me one of these days.”
She went on to describe their deteriorating marriage and his serious threats to kill her.
I did my best to console and encourage her but I did not succeed. I found it hard to believe that he would ever take her life, but I did not know to what extent evil forces had dominated his moods and deep rage had poisoned his inner life.
She visited us again, flying her own plane, a hot little Swift. She took the kids up for brief flights, and then said, “It’s your turn, Bill.”Truthfully, I didn’t want to go, for I disliked flying in small private planes. But I would not let the youngsters think they were bolder than dad, so we took off. When we were aloft she said, “Sometimes I feel like pointing the nose of this plane to the ground and letting it crash.”That was not very comforting to hear when I was a passenger! On landing she overshot the runway and the plane came to a stop just short of a grove of pine trees. “Hope I didn’t scare you,” she said. I was too breathless to respond.
Some months later she called me.“I’ve left Glenn, “she said, “and I have Diane with me. I won’t tell you where I am, for I know he will get in touch with you, hoping to find me. Just pray for us, please.”
Sure enough, he flew to Atlanta, came to my office, and begged me to tell him where Frances was. I admitted that she had called me, but had refused to disclose her whereabouts. He dropped to his knees, wept, prayed for forgiveness, and once again pressured me to tell him where she was. I couldn’t. He left and, as I later learned, he thought I had lied to him to protect her, and he hated me for it.
Diane, against her mother’s wishes, went to Arcadia to visit her grandparents. Glenn got her, and extracted from her the phone number where Frances was living. He called and said, “If you don’t come back to me, you’ll never see Diane again.”Of course Frances returned, and told me on the phone, “I am going back to my death.”
Their situation worsened. On January 29, 1969 Howard Melton called me with terrible news. The night before, Glenn had shot her to death, and then shot himself, tearing away a large section of his body. He was in critical condition in a hospital in Orlando, where they were living at the time. Diane had been away that evening, and on returning home found the door open and heard her dad groaning. Afraid to enter the house, she ran to a neighbor’s home and the neighbors came, found the grisly death scene and called the police.
Shortly before the shooting occurred, Frances, expecting the worst, had told Diane, “If anything happens to me, I want you to do two things. See that I am buried beside my mother, and get Bill McCumber to preach my funeral.”
Doris and I drove to Arcadia, stopping at Thomasville, Georgia to pick up Howard and Velma. (Velma was a first cousin to Frances.)We made the trip with heavy hearts, remembering happier times together.
On Sunday afternoon, February 2, I conducted the funeral service. Many of her relatives and many of Glenn’s were there. The tension was almost stifling. I spoke to them all from 1 John 4:8-16, emphasizing God’s forgiving love and our need both to receive it and to express it toward others. The interment followed at Joshua Creek Cemetery, where the body of Frances was laid beside her mother’s grave. The ride home that night was long and sad for the Meltons and for us. I wrote in my journal, “I felt that a part of me was buried with her…. A longer day, a sadder time, I don’t recall.”
Glenn recovered from his wounds. He later married one of the nurses who had attended him, but he only lived for a short while afterwards. I prayed often and earnestly for him, for he had been my friend, and I still loved him.
When brought to trial, he maintained that Frances had held the shotgun on him, and in struggling to wrest it from her, he was shot and she was killed accidentally. The jury disagreed. Months passed before I knew about the trial and the verdict. I was reading an article in the magazine section of a leading newspaper on spousal killings and their outcome. Glenn had been fined five hundred dollars and released. The judge reasoned that such crimes of passion arose from such private motives that the killers posed no threat of repeating violent crimes. Five hundred dollars! That seemed then and still seems like an insultingly low value to place on a person’s life.
It took me a long time to recover from the tragedy. I was haunted by questions of what I might have done to help them both get beyond their escalating conflicts and find reconciliation to God and one another. Thinking of this lovely friend who came to such a wretched end, I penned these words one morning:
Let rainbows arch her grave
Who bore dark sorrow’s weight;
Her stone let sunshine lave
Who weathered constant hate.
Unhappy lass, she drew
In pain with every breath;
Love starved, she only knew
Abuse and threats of death.
And now a shotgun blast
Has torn her heart away!
God, grant her peace at last
And in Your cloudless day
May she know love, and hear
Ten thousand bluebirds sing!
O, drench her soul in cheer,
Give her an endless Spring!
We once received a card from Frances with a poem that began, “New friends are silver, old friends are gold.” Our friendship with her was indeed golden.
Early in 1953 I became the pastor of our Thomasville, Georgia church, and there I spent over eight of the happiest years of my life. And there I formed a close and lasting friendship with Dan Cheshire and his wife Ethel.
She was a saleswoman with Stanley Home Products, and her “parties” took her from home several nights a week. On those nights Dan often came to the parsonage to visit with me. He would bring coffee, cheese and crackers, and we would drink and snack and converse. At one time or another we solved all the major problems of the church and world. The big redhead was great fun to be with.
My heart was broken when Ethel was promoted and the career change forced them to move to Jacksonville,Florida. While living there Dan also worked with Stanley Home Products, but later started his own bookkeeping business. We visited back and forth at every opportunity, and for years we vacationed together. He and I fished and golfed together and indulged in both serious and comic conversations. Life was good when we were together. I could fully relax with him.
Speaking of fishing, we did well fishing with other people, but seemed to have bad luck fishing together. Still, we kept trying with the time-honored persistence of those who really enjoy fishing. Once Doris and I drove to Jacksonville to spend a few days with the Cheshires and Dan said, “We’re going to catch them this time. I am taking a guide, a fellow who knows where and how to catch fish in this part of the country.”We picked up “Shorty” before daybreak and headed for Crescent Lake, one that we had not fished before. All the way Shorty fired us up by naming lakes we passed near and telling how many fish he had caught there. When we reached our destination and put the boat in the water, Dan said, “Okay, Shorty, show us where to go.”Shorty answered, “Your guess is as good as mine. I haven’t been here before.”We rowed and reeled for several hours and not one of us got a strike. I was having dark thoughts about dumping Shorty in the lake to be eaten by turtles.
One year we vacationed on Lake Murray in South Carolina, using a house owned by Dan’s pastor, “Red” Kelly. What a lovely spot! We enjoyed the swimming immensely, and have a treasured photograph of big Dan floating on his back and wearing tennis shoes. He wore them because the lake bottom was quite stony. While the swimming was great the fishing was woeful. We put out a trotline for catfish and got zilch. We spent early morning and late evening hours casting and reeling a variety of lures with no success. Dan quoted an Indian who was supposed to have said, after the same ill luck fishing, “Ten thousand strokums, no catchum.” Still, it was being with Dan that mattered to me, not catching fish, though that would have enhanced the fun.
Dan and Ethel had no children, but they loved children. Quite often they would take our three youngest, the twin boys (Bill and Bert) and our only girl (Jean) home with them for a few days. The kids loved it and tried with good success to manipulate the situation for extra goodies. Dan and Ethel laughed for years about the time they were driving toward Jacksonville and the kids wanted a drink. One of the twins, trying to be diplomatic, said, “Dan, can we stop and get a drink of water?”Jean, less tactful but more truthful, said, “Water? Who wants water?”They got the soda pop they really desired.
Ethel died of cancer in February, 1968.During that last illness she suffered terribly but triumphantly, a Christian witness to the last. I visited her on the night before she died, and had scarcely reached home in Atlanta before word came that she was gone. I returned to Jacksonville to preach her funeral, then I drove to Thomasville for the interment. As best I could I comforted Dan.
We got together as often as possible after Ethel’s death. In April that year my wife’s mother was in an automobile accident, and was hospitalized in Valdosta, Georgia in critical condition. Dan came over and spent as much time as possible with us. We stayed in a motel and when we checked out we discovered that he had paid the bill. In June of that year he and I flew to Kansas City and roomed together during the General Assembly. He insisted on taking care of the expenses. He was that kind of friend.
In 1969 I moved to California to begin teaching college. Though we hated to part, Dan encouraged me to go, for he believed the career change was the Lord’s will for my life. Needless to say, our opportunities for fellowship became rare in frequency but always joyful to experience.
Dan married again, linking his life with that of a lovely Christian widow named Bertie Fox. They had many happy years together. He retired from his bookkeeping business and they moved to the country outside of Flora Home, Florida, within a short distance of Lake George. There they gardened and enjoyed their grandchildren. As often as Doris and I were in that area we would meet together at some restaurant in Palatka and share a meal and catch up on events in each other’s lives.
From one of those meals I drove away with a heavy heart. Dan was his old self when it came to sharing jokes but I could tell that his memory was failing. He was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease. No woman could have lived and loved more faithfully than Bertie did through his last days. She was the soul of patience and understanding.
On October 7, 1996 Doris and I had lunch with Dan and Bertie in Palatka. I recorded this in my journal as a “bittersweet” event, for I’m not sure that Dan even knew us. On Friday, December 20, he fell and broke a leg. The injury required surgery and a blood clot formed that traveled to his heart. On Tuesday, December 24 my old friend died. R. E. Zollinhoffer and I conducted his funeral service on the following Friday, and the next day I conducted a graveside service in Thomasville. He was buried there in Laurel Hill cemetery next to Ethel. Bertie has remained a precious friend. For me, life has never been the same without Dan. I’ve never had a better friend.
When I was a boy the only religious organization conducting street meetings in Miami, Florida was the Salvation Army. Shortly after I found Christ I was standing with a group of people listening to Army music on the corner of Flagler Street and Miami Avenue. Beside me was Frank Leonard, whose Uncle Charlie, a large and happy fellow, was playing a big drum. Uncle Charlie came over and asked Frank to give a testimony. Frank was shy and said, “Here’s Bill McCumber from our Uleta church. He’ll give a testimony.” Well, I was more timid than Frank, but I wouldn’t miss the chance to put in a good word for Jesus. I joined the band, read some Scripture, and told the people how the Lord had transformed my life. A man in the crowd came to me and invited me to preach at an U. S. Army base.
Later, the Lord would bless me richly with opportunities to work with Salvation Army personnel. One of the finest men I ever worked with was Commissioner Sam Hepburn. While I was pastoring in Atlanta he invited me to speak at Camp Lake, Wisconsin, where officers of the Central Territory gathered for physical and spiritual recreation. Hepburn was Territorial Commander with his office in Chicago. He met me at O’Hare airport and expressed surprise that I was in my mid-forties.“From your writings,” he said, “I assumed you were older. I thought you were in your sixties.”
As we drove to Camp Lake he played one of his favorite tricks. When traffic was roaring past on the freeway he donned his cap. At once cars would slow down, for from a distance and at their speeds it looked like a policeman’s cap. That tickled him. By time we reached the camp I had bonded with this exuberant down-to-earth leader.
Sam had two passions, to renew an emphasis on holiness in the Army, and to revitalize the preaching ministry of Army officers. The Salvation Army, in his opinion, was known too exclusively as a social agency. In the interest of those goals, he had a building erected at the camp to house a library of hundreds of books, and to afford rooms for conferences and worship services.
I met some of the most wonderful men and women in the world at Camp Lake. And there, at Sam’s request I gave “lectures” daily on holiness and on preaching. The youngest of those assembled officers were no more enthused about ministry than was their white-haired Commander. One of his favorite expressions was “Wow!”I could soon judge the effectiveness of my messages by the number and volume of his “Wows!”
Salvationists can play music and sing like no other group on earth. One day they were boisterously singing a song entitled, “I feel like singing all the time.”Sam Hepburn leaned over to me and said, “We sing some things that aren’t true.”
As the week neared its close, Hepburn asked me to return the following summer and then asked if I would send him sermon outlines that he could reproduce and distribute to his officers in the Central Territories. For two years I supplied him with four outlines a month and I know some of the men and women got tired of finding them in their mail. I was also having outlines published monthly in our Preacher’s Magazine, edited at the time by Richard Taylor, who had first received them from Hepburn.
I returned to Camp Lake the next summer and enjoyed the fellowship in study and prayer and conversation immensely.
Commissioner Hepburn scheduled me back for a third successive year at Camp Lake, but before that summer rolled around he had been promoted to National Commander and his successor did not use non-Salvationists. I was canceled, not a novel experience for me. At our General Assembly in 1968 Sam Hepburn brought greetings from the Salvation Army, and publicly commended my work—to my surprise and to the greater surprise of my colleagues in our church.
Instead of returning to Camp Lake, I went to Miami Beach, where I stayed in the penthouse of the Biltmore Hotel(!) and preached to the officers of the Army’s Southern Territory at their “Life and Bible conference.”The Southern Territory was then under the command of John Needham.
We dined each day with a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean before us, and I shared some of the most energized and blessed services I have ever attended. How they sang and preached and responded to preaching with “volleys” of amens!
I first met John Needham when he headed the Army’s work in Georgia. He came to Thomasville, Georgia, where I was pastoring at the time, to preach the funeral of George Bowman, a lay officer who began the Army’s work in that town. Sergeant-major George Bowman was a splendid example of true holiness, and one of the choicest friends I ever had. Until his work was established and he began conducting Sunday services, he and his family attended our church.
After moving to Atlanta, I learned that John Needham had asked Sam Hepburn to share my outlines with his officers. Later I preached a number of times at his request at the annual Temple services in Atlanta, and I spoke and taught a few times at the Salvation Army’s Training College in Atlanta at the request of Major Eckstein and Colonel Talmadge.
In April 1969 I was the speaker at a retreat for the Salvation Army officers of the Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana division, at the invitation of Major Les Hall. One of the officers in attendance was George Bowman’s son. The retreat took place in Pass Christian, and I’m sure that I derived far more benefit from the fellowship than the Salvationists did from my preaching.
In January 1978 I did a two-day preaching seminary/workshop with the officers of the Missouri-Kansas division.
John Needham also became National Commander. And later he became the first American to head the Salvation Army’s work in Great Britain. Before going overseas he called me and said, “I need your help.” “What kind of help?” I asked. He told me that the British put much more emphasis on preaching than on social services, and wanted me to share some sermon materials with him. I told him I had prepared a series of sermons based on the first eighteen chapters of Acts, and I would be glad to send a copy of those .I did request that he not circulate them to anyone else, for I was planning to offer them to our Publishing House as a book manuscript. When my book, The Widening Circle, appeared in 1983 those messages had been pre-tested both in England and in America.
When the Lord took George Bowman, Les Hall, Sam Hepburn and John Needham to heaven, He enriched that place with some of the truest Christian gentlemen who ever served Him in the cities of this world. I was so fortunate to know them and work with them. Sam Hepburn did not know, nor could I have guessed, what he was getting started when he first invited me to address his colleagues in ministry.
The Army has always had a special place in my heart. I have been a bell ringer and a War Cry boomer for them in two of my pastorates. Had God so willed, I could have joyfully worn the uniform and served under their “blood and fire” banner. If I could have been cloned, one of me would have been a Salvationist.
David Monroe Coulson was a pioneer preacher in the Church of the Nazarene. He was a Texan, a tall man with piercing blue eyes. His last years were spent on the old Florida district, and that’s how I came to know him. I was his pastor for a year before he died, and he loved to visit the parsonage and talk about his ministry.
When he was a boy he stood with his father on the bank of a wide river.“How far is it to the other side?” his father asked. “I don’t know,” the lad replied. “That’s a good answer, Son,” his father said.“Never be afraid or ashamed of admitting you don’t know something.” Coulson never pretended a knowledge he didn’t possess. He was honestly humble and humbly honest.
He pioneered in New York City with C. B. Jernigan. They stretched a tent between two tall buildings, and in the summer that canvas was hot! One afternoon Coulson removed his coat while preaching. A woman, upset by this, arose and started to leave.“Just a moment, Sister,” Coulson called out. She stopped in the sawdust aisle, her back to him.“You are offended because I removed my coat. I am still clothed up to my adam’s apple and down to my wrists and ankles. But when you turned from me I could see the fifth joint in your backbone. Now you sit down and listen while I finish this sermon.”The woman dropped like a bean bag into the nearest seat.
Coulson came to the Southeast as pastor of our “mother church” in the area—at Donalsonville, Georgia. He met weekly with the pastors of the Baptist and Methodist churches of that town. One morning he walked in on a red-hot argument about water baptism. Said the Methodist, “If I baptize a man all but his head, is that a valid baptism.”“No,” said the Baptist, “he has to go clear under the water.”“What if I dip him up to his hair line—is that a valid baptism?”“No, he has to go clear under.”“That proves it,” exclaimed the Methodist.“It’s the water on top of his head that constitutes real baptism.”At that point the disputants actually came to blows and Coulson had to physically separate them.
He could do it. He was a strong and courageous man. Once he was conducting a tent revival in a mid-western town and a local ruffian took umbrage at Coulson’s attack on whiskey. The angry man met Coulson in the middle of the street, whipped out a knife, and threatened to cut his heart out. Coulson quietly demanded, “Give me the knife.”The man glared at him and cursed, but Coulson gently repeated the order, stretching out his hand to receive the knife. The man finally handed over the knife and slunk away. Coulson told me, “I would step into any kind of danger for the gospel’s sake.”
He was not a scholar in any formal sense, but had some remarkable insights into the Bible and people. I once said, “You should write down some of your messages and have them published.”He replied, “I prepared a manuscript once. Before I could submit it to a publisher my wife threw it into the fireplace and destroyed it.”He added immediately, “I couldn’t fault the poor woman, though. She had lost her mind and wasn’t responsible.”
D. M. Coulson was a practical man. He wore dentures and carried a spare set in his pocket. He explained to me, “I have a lightweight set for preaching, and a heavier set for chewing solid food.” He was preaching at our Suwannee River Church in North Florida one Sunday morning when his dentures popped out of his mouth. He caught them in midair, slipped them into his coat pocket, and never missed a word of his message! He lived for his message and his message was holiness. He once told me that in sixty years of preaching he had never addressed a message to sinners; he always preached to the church.“But hundreds of sinners got under conviction and found the Lord in my services,” he added.
While I was his pastor D. M. Coulson was living in the parsonage at Sparr, Florida, where we had property but no longer a church. He walked into a local grocery store one morning, and the owner said to some cronies, “Here’s that holiness preacher. He thinks you can be perfect.” Coulson did not answer. Instead, he walked to a corner of the room, got a broom, and swept the floor.“This is a perfect broom,” he said.“It’s old and worn and scratched, but it does what it was made to do—it sweeps clean.”He then took his pocket watch out, and said, “This is a perfect watch. It’s old and worn and scratched, but it does what it was made to do—it keeps accurate time. The Bible tells us to be perfect, and that means doing what God created us to do. And what He created us to do is to love Him with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s what holiness means.”Having said that, he smiled and left.
A neighbor dropped by the parsonage to check on Coulson, who hadn’t been seen for a day. He found the old preacher on the floor. Coulson had fallen and broken his leg. He was saying, “Praise the Lord! Glory to God!”The neighbor exclaimed, “Man, your leg’s busted. How can you praise the Lord?” Coulson replied, “Because I’ve got two legs and the other one’s not broken.”Life can’t defeat a man with that kind of spirit.
When Coulson died he had passed his ninetieth birthday. Friends who were at his bedside told me that his last words were, “It is glory.”I knew what the gallant old warrior had meant. Shortly before he died, he had preached his last sermon at our church in Ocala. His text was 2 Corinthians 4:17—“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”He was exchanging the afflictions of earth for the glories of heaven.
Men and women of Coulson’s love, faith, courage and integrity poured their lives into the foundations of our church.
It’s safer to write about the dead, but Howard is still living, retired, in Arcadia, Florida.
I first saw Arcadia in 1945, there to preach revival services with our church. Howard was on the seas somewhere, for he was serving in the Merchant Marine on vessels that steamed to distant ports with supplies for our army personnel. I met his wife, Velma, who could not believe that I didn’t know Howard.“Everyone knows Howard,” she told me, in a way that expressed her conviction that I was either forgetful or deprived. He and I have laughed for years about how well-known she thought he was.
In 1946 I became the pastor of our Arcadia church. I then met the man whom everybody knew. He was our Sunday School superintendent, song leader, and youth worker, always busy for Christ and the church. He was working at Koch”s drugstore to feed and clothe his family, but his passion was for the work of Christ. Howard taught a boy’s class back then, and on Sunday morning he would walk a few miles to visit their homes and wake them up to get ready for Sunday school.
We bonded quickly, and I was with him as much as possible. One of the church members felt like we spent too much time together. If she saw us walking together when she drove through town, she would lean her head out of the car window and yell, “There go the Gold Dust twins.”If you remember those twins, who adorned boxes of a popular laundry product, you are “getting along in years,” as women used to say who couldn’t bring themselves to admit, “I’m getting old.”I don’t know about twins, but we did look enough alike to be brothers. I went to several of his family reunions and the “shirttail cousins” would hug and kiss me believing that I was one of their relatives.
When Howard was first pastoring in Georgia I was the district secretary. At our annual district assemblies he served as recording secretary, and we sat side by side on the platform. He delighted in taking my black-rimmed glasses and putting them on to show folks how much alike we looked. Numbers of them thought we were blood and flesh brothers.
Later in life than most people do such things, Howard enrolled at Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville, Tennessee to prepare for pastoral ministry, responding to a call to preach..I was serving in Atlanta during that time, and was on the Board of Trustees for the college, so Doris and I went up occasionally to visit him and Velma and their two daughters who were teen-agers at that time. The year he graduated Trevecca conferred an honorary doctorate on me, so Howard and I had a happy “together” time, caught in snapshots .My, we did look dignified in our robes and mortar boards!
He was the pastor at Thomasville, where I had spent the 1950’s, when I began teaching college in 1969 in California. We drove through Thomasville to say goodbye to the Meltons, and putting a continent between us and them was a heart-wrenching matter. During our years out there, followed by nineteen years in New England and Kansas, we only saw them once a year and truly treasured those visits.
After he retired from pastoral ministry Howard moved back to his beloved Arcadia and DeSoto county. For a while he operated an antique shop. He brought the past into the present by writing newspaper articles for several years. He then utilized his voluminous files of articles and photographs to publish two volumes of pictorial history that made him the unofficial but actual historian of that part of Florida. He has received phone calls, letters and visits from people in the U. S. and countries overseas, tracing through his files life-fragments of their families and friends. The books have been the crowning achievement of a long and useful life.
Howard has always been cheerful, the kind of fellow you can visit a while and come away feeling better about everything. I saw him in “the slough of despond” just once, after Hurricane Charley devastated Arcadia on Friday the 13 of August, 2004. He was as blue as the tarps that covered almost every building in that city. He finally came out of it, and functioned once more as a philosophic, optimistic person he had always been before.
Like me, he has outlived his siblings. He takes great joy in his family and friends, and looks ahead (as often as a historian can) to an eternal dwelling place with “all God’s chilluns.”
If he is allowed to work on a history of heaven he will never leave cloud nine.