One of the great pleasures of pastoring fifty years was the joy of entertaining evangelists in our church and home as they held meetings with us or when they were crisscrossing the U.S. from one meeting to another and needed a place to stay for a night or two. I could mention many such as Jerry Sivnksty, Gary Gillmore, Joe Mark, Monroe Parker and others, but one of our favorites was Evangelist Phil Shuler and his beautiful wife, Marie. I had seen Phil from a distance and made the mistake of judging him and Marie, an off the charts talented pianist, as more “glitz” than glory. That was a terrible miscall! Then I learned that Phil, a Marine who landed at Bob Jones University just after an amphibian tour of the far east in World War II, with some other GI’s going to school on the GI bill, just about rattled BJU off its solid foundations with their shenanigans, kept twelve weeks a year open so that he could hold revival meetings in churches of 50 or less, churches that were afraid to call an evangelist for help for fear they could not afford to pay their expenses and give them a love offering. Well, Phil Shuler made it a point to go to such churches at his own expense and when I heard that I figured he had to have been a man of rare character caliber, and I was right. More about Phil and Marie in a later post, but in lieu of Mother’s Day coming next Sunday, I want to share with you an article Phil wrote about his mother which he posted in one of his newsletters about 40 years ago. It read:
“On August the 4th, my mother, Nelle Reeves Shuler, went home to be with Christ. She was 96 and passed away in her sleep. If I live to be a hundred I will never, in this world, meet another woman like her! Mother was reared in a well-to-do home in Jonesboro, Tennessee, went to ‘finishing school,’ and married my dad when she was 20. Out of the state of Tennessee dad got the ‘pick of the litter!’ Those who remember her as a young lady remark about that ‘beautiful Nelle Reeves!’ Mom took her place beside her raw bones, fiery preacher husband, and never once let him down! She was his mainstay! Dad got the credit for great exploits for Christ, but it was Mom who stood firmly by him, and steadied him along the path. She supplied him with most of his sermon texts and proof-read all his articles in THE METHODIST CHALLENGE. You never saw mother in the foreground, but quietly she would be off in the shadow, supporting her husband and his work. Her kind come along just now and then.
Mother raised seven children. She lost Dick at the age of 9 months. All seven of her children are bound for the Promised Land because of a mother who refused to see it otherwise and stayed on her knees nightly to so convince her God! I can remember walking by her room on more than one occasion to hear her mention my name to God in prayer! She lived to see three of her boys enter the ministry, and one of those enter heaven! I can’t remember the number of her grandchildren; it keeps changing all the time. And great-grandchildren….forget it! But what a joy it was for mother to entertain them on visits! She was quite a lady!
God occasionally sends along a preacher like my dad, but never without a wife like my mother! As I reflect upon their influence on me, I determine in my heart to do my dead-level best to carry on the tradition. I certainly have the wife for it! And the opportunity is there! God give me strength! Yours for souls, Phil Shuler.”
Ellen and I could never forget one of those times that Phil and Marie were house guests and, while we were relaxing in our living room, Phil broke out into one of the lull-a-byes that he used to hear his mother sing when he sat at her knee as a toddler. He sang as only Phil could in his “sweet” tenor voice, and he must have sung those childhood lull-a-byes for a half-hour one after another; most of them were new to us but all of them had been tucked away in Phil’s heart and now as an older man himself those sweet verses sung from his mother’s heart through her holy lips came back to Phil like a flood and we just sat there listening “in another world!” We have kicked ourselves a hundred times for not having turned on something that would have recorded those musical masterpieces, but alas! we had no cell phones, and the recording equipment was not handy at that moment. It was one of those unforgettable moments that one would love to have frozen in time.
I hope you will enjoy this memory of Phil and Marie, one of many I could share if time permitted, such as the time Phil reenacted the funeral service at his Dad’s church in LA when his 9-month-old brother, Dick, had died and Nelle, in the middle of her husband’s message, broke out singing “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”
I hope you all, especially Mothers, will have a blessed day this 2nd Sunday of May, Mother’s Day.
“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” (Provs.31:28 )