Father’s Day Meditation–given at Salem Presbyterian Church
Sunday, June 16, 2013
I want to honor two fathers who have been vitally important to this church family and to my own family, for the past 50 years. In the hallway collage, there is a b/w picture of these two men, taken about 1965-66. At the top of the picture, my father, Pastor Floyd Doud Shafer, stands in the church doorway, greeting parishioners who are leaving the service, while my husband Max Bedwell is shepherding his young family—Deanna, Steve, and their mother LuAnn–down the steps. That’s how I think of these two men—as shepherds, guiding and directing their own families, as they guided and directed others in their professional lives.
My father and I had a prickly relationship. I greatly admired his scholarship and knowledge, but thought he was too harsh with me—and that his knowledge of how to raise girls was adolescent, at best. He did better with my sister, who is nine years younger, having had some difficult learning times with me. Where my father excelled was as a grandfather, greatly enjoying his six grandsons and one granddaughter, inspiring his oldest grandson to become a scholar, and supporting the education and development of his other grand-children. He had the joy of knowing two of his great-grandchildren, Zoey and Anthony.
Those of you who knew my father probably remember his witty conversation, full of jokes, irony, satire, literary illusions, and sometimes brilliant remarks. He loved to joke and laugh. He loved repartee—-conversation with him was scintillating and fun. My childhood was filled with laughter.
My father was born in Grayville, Illinois; his father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother was a teacher. Sadly, Grandfather Shafer died when my father was 14, leaving my grandmother and father to struggle with poverty during the Depression. After graduating from Hanover College in 1938, he studied for the ministry at the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, earning a Master of Divinity in 1941, and was ordained to the ministry of the United Presbyterian Church in Valparaiso, Indiana in 1941. He entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City where he was thrilled at his good fortune in studying with the theologians Paul Tillich and Martin Buber, receiving a Master of Divinity in 1942. All of my life, I heard my father speak with wonderment that he, a poor kid from rural Indiana, was privileged to study with the greatest theologians of the 20th Century. In March 1942, he and my mother, Carol Jeanne Parsons, were married, a union of 54 years. From 1944-1946, he served as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army, the 96th Division, 382nd Regiment, 2nd Battalion, accompanying the troops in the landing and invasion of Okinawa, and also serving in the South Pacific.
My father always wished to be called “pastor,” seeing his role as that of a shepherd. He served pastorates in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. In his younger pastoring days, he enjoyed working with the youth. I remember church picnics, youth camping trips to the mountains, and fishing and swimming in the lakes of several states. Here in Salem there were hot dog roasts, outings to the Bogg’s cabin on the lake near Brownstown, and swim parties at the DeJeans & Haags’ swimming pool.
A writer as well as a pastor, he wrote Sunday School lessons for Crossroads, the Presbyterian Sunday School series, as well as numerous articles, book reviews, and a book on liturgy. Many of his articles were written here in Salem in his study in our home on Main Street. A scholar, my father studied Latin and Greek all of his life, always carrying around little books with verb or other declensions. He loved books and amassed a collection of 15,000 books, which he left to his grandson, Jimmy [Professor James B. Apple, PhD]. In his ministry, my father took great pride in the written and spoken word. His powerful sermons were literary and erudite, uplifting and intellectually stimulating. When he retired from the active ministry in 1981, he served the Sciota Valley Presbytery as a pulpit supply pastor, retiring in 2002 when his health declined. He spent sixty years as a pastor.
He and my mother, Carol Jeanne, loved Salem Presbyterian Church, finding the years they served here–1960-1968—rich in friendships and shared Christian service. Serving the Church of the Savior out in the Delaney Creek Valley was a joy for him and he loved spending the day or evening in Doc Lopp’s cabin.
The other strong and loving shepherd in my life, and in this church, is my husband Max Bedwell, a father of two, a grandfather of four, and a great-grandfather of eleven. He is also the proud and caring step-father of Jim & Shinobu Apple and Dan Apple. I first knew Max as my brother’s football coach and later as the high school principal for whom I subbed back in the early 1970’s. After he hired me in 1977, I worked for him for 20 years. Max was such a great principal; he shepherded his small town high school with strong values, much inspiration, intense dedication, and a clear vision. The term “slave driver” comes to mind, as he pushed his teachers and his students hard, demanding that we strive to do our best. During his 27 years as principal, Salem High School had 12 National Merit Scholars, five students with National Merit commendations, and at least nine students who were later Phi Beta Kappas at Indiana University, including our own Christopher Beck. That is an amazing record for a small town high school. We all know that our students’ education is a collective, community effort, but Max thought of and spoke of the students as “his”—always so invested in their success. Many of his students won scholarships; many students went on to study at our great universities, earning degrees and doctorates; and many have served with distinction in the United States military. Today, hundreds of his students lead their businesses, churches, and communities. Max wanted his students to excel and he knew that education was the road out of poverty and the road to solid citizenship.
Max has served on numerous boards and now enjoys volunteering and gardening, raising lots of vegetables for his family and friends. For over twenty years, he has represented Salem Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Ohio Valley. He served a term on the Presbytery Commission on Ministry and now serves on the Camp Pyoca Board. He is serving his second or maybe third term on our Session. Each Sunday, he is here, faithfully, often with his beloved Addi and now with his loving daughter Deanna.
I want to share a story—an example of the kind of Christian leadership which is so typical of Max. I wrote in my blog…..
“February 12, 2009: Our church has been having weekly soup suppers, inviting anyone in the community who wants to come. We have enjoyed this activity no end and several people have joined us regularly, to eat and to visit. Tonight, someone came who really needed help. This man anxiously asked for Max, who had been there earlier to set up the tables and had gone on an errand. The man was agitated, disheveled, and obviously so poor. Some of the workers kindly greeted the new man, trying to be helpful and calming. Just then, Max came back. Recognizing the man as a former student, Max got a bowl of soup and sat down across from our guest, chatting in a kind and friendly manner, treating the man with respect and dignity. The guest began to relax and enjoy the meal. Max asked how we could help and a conversation developed. Soon, we were all chatting and joking.
When I encounter very needy people, my heart is full of compassion. But, I am afraid–I am so frightened that I do not know what to do or say. I think I will be too condescending or too bossy—or too friendly or too helpful. I am not sure how to show proper respect. Max knows exactly what to say and what to do. He talks in a friendly and conversational manner, making the person feel reassured and comfortable. And then Max thinks up helpful things to do– useful and practical things.”
Max experienced hardship and poverty in his youth, growing up on their family farm in Sullivan County, Indiana, late in the Depression. They weren’t destitute, but his father drank up money that should have been used to help raise his family. Max went to college on a dream and a prayer, working his way though Indiana State, and later earning a master’s degree and a specialist’s degree from Indiana University. Hard as this early start was, instead of making him bitter, Max’s struggles made him compassionate and caring. He began his career as a teacher and coach, and later became a principal. In his long years at Salem High School, he shepherded hundreds of students, guiding them through the transition-to-real-life process; it gave him particular satisfaction to make the phone calls or to write the letters to help poor students to attend college on a scholarship or to help them get a job. Later, when he worked in real estate, he often gave up part of his commission to help needy clients—and he gave mountains of free real estate advice and help to clients and people in need.
Nothing gives Max more pleasure than helping other people; he has a big heart.
The garden he and his friend Verne Ratliff created has just been sold, but Max still has our large backyard. He’s teaching his beloved great-granddaughter Addi to garden, passing on the skills he learned from his mother. His little Greats live around the country and in Germany, so we communicate on Facebook, through email, and by phone—which is not nearly as much fun as when they visit and race each other to the creek.
A dedicated father, Max shepherded his children through the tragedy of their mother’s too early death. He guided Steve and Deanna, and also his stepsons Jim and Dan, and Shinobu, with their educations and career development. He has guided his beloved grandchildren with long phone calls, and visits of support, and tireless directions, and generally patient explanations, and by example. His little Greats play at his feet, and he treasures all of the things they say and do.
His life of dedication and hard work is the model he has shaped for his family.
On this Father’s Day, we honor all of our fathers and grandfathers.
For me, there are these two men who frame my life:
* devoted to their families
* devoted to this church
* devoted to education and learning
* both leaders
* both shepherds
* each an example of what it means to be a loving father and grandfather
Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and grandfathers with us today.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the fathers and grandfathers who have shaped our lives.