Legacy Is Powerful
Many a southern child can claim their place in a long line of preachers. Nearly everyone I know can say, “My grandaddy was a pastor.” Legacy is powerful and can hold the potential for great pride- or shame. Either way, we are often defined (or at least directed) by where we come from and who we come from.
Mary Ella Shelnut was born in 1909 in the small country hamlet of Apple Valley, Georgia. A bright and inquisitive child, she quickly became involved in the work of her local church. She was bookish and “wise beyond her years”. She had a deep love for working with the neediest people in her community. At the age of fifteen, she was sure that God was calling her into ministry. Life would try to convince her otherwise. The depression brought hard times and the death of a child nearly pushed her to the edge. She considered giving up on the possibilty of becoming a pastor and preacher altogether.
After serving as an assistant to several Baptist pastors, an opportunity came along that she said, “finaly fulfilled her deep longing to share God’s love.” No one ever thought, and certainly not Mary Ella, that a woman would preach on the radio. She was intriguied by the possibilty, but her declining health and the voices of southern culture pushed the vision of a radio ministry out of her mind.
It was in Pacolet, South Carolina that she finally gave in to the nudging of the Spirit. For fifteen years she preached in front of a radio microphone in the South Carolina upstate. She was heard by millions of listeners and became known as “The Radio Missionary”. To no one’s surprise, she made the journey towards ordination and pastoring. Mary Ella organized two Rescue Missions that later became churches. The first congregation she named “The Open Bible Church” and was called to serve as Pastor. Several more churches and missions followed. She became everything that God had promised she would be as a fifteen year old girl first hearing the whispers of calling. Only her declining health would eventually be powerful enough to pull her away from the pulpit.
She was a preacher. She was a pastor. She was my great grandmother.
Several years ago my mother gave me her Pastor’s Manual. The pages are faded and worn. Her thoughts are scribbled over every inch of the margins. The names of my grandparents are written in pencil on the pages containing the wedding ceremony. The inside back cover is filled with dates- her ordination and the opening of her church.
I am one of those southern children who can claim a legacy of preachers and pastors. How proud I am that it detours a bit from the expected, taking a distinctively feminine turn. Legacy is powerful.