My Boyhood Pastor

by John C. Westervelt

I was a sophomore in high school in the middle of World War II when I heard that the new preacher had arrived. I decided to check him out for myself, so I rode my bike the two blocks from home to Wesley Methodist church in Oklahoma City. A long driveway separated the parsonage from the church. As I stopped to observe what was going on, I could see two little girls riding up and down the spacious driveway on their tricycles. Could these be the children of the new preacher? At the time I had thought that all preachers were old. But as I was to soon find out, Rev. Nuell Crain and his wife, Catherine, were different. Our friendship, which was nurtured through my high school years, was destined to last a lifetime.

Wesley church had struggled through most of the depression years with only two staff members, a pastor and a church secretary. Under Reverend Crain’s leadership, Wesley began to grow. A youth director, Grace Garten, was added to the staff. She made the programs so interesting that the Wesley Methodist Youth Fellowship became the center of my life throughout my high school days. The friendships that I made then have lasted to this day.

Reverend Crain stayed thirteen years at Wesley, adding new members and buildings. Eventually he moved on to other churches and to a District Superintendent’s job.

After retiring from the Oklahoma conference, Nuell and Catherine moved back home to Dallas, Texas, and Nuell went on staff at Highland Park United Methodist church. Years ago, Catherine shared that the senior pastor was reluctant to let Nuell retire completely, not only because of his effective visiting ministry, but because he was the perennial peacemaker among the large staff. After seventeen years, Nuell celebrated a second retirement, which would give him more time to write.

In 1955 Nuell wrote his first devotional for the Upper Room. Since that time a total of thirty were published, four of these in 1995.

After our children were grown, eight friends from Wesley’s Methodist Youth Fellowship began vacationing together. Two came from Kansas, two from Vermont, and four from Oklahoma to share good memories and our hopes for the future. Ironically, while on our sixth gathering in late June 1997, we received word of the death of Nuell Crain.

A flood of memories crossed my mind. Soon after Nuell came to Wesley, I was riding in his car filled with young people to a district Methodist Youth Fellowship meeting across town. Coming home we sang all the verses of "We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder." Each time I would hear that song in subsequent years, my spirits would soar in the memory of that crowded car ride. I listened to Reverend Crain preach, but more than that I observed his living and his loving of his flock.

Who I am was marked forever by this special man of God. What he gave me I gave to my children. That given to my children has been given to my grandchildren. It seems clear to me that the spirit of Nuell Crain could be present on this earth forever. I’ll miss the physical presence of my dear friend, but his spiritual presence will never leave me.

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