When I was about 14, my family started going to a new church. It was still an Assembly of God church, but it was not the one in Columbus, Ohio we had been attending. This one was in Delaware, about the same distance but in the opposite direction. We were living near Sunbury, Ohio at the time. I don’t remember why we switched churches, but I think it had something to do with our former pastor leaving. The church in Delaware was small, maybe 35 or 40 members, so when the 10 of us started going, of course we were going to have an outsize impact. The pastor, Brother Moore was a young, sincere man, and the congregation was made up mostly of middle aged and older folks. I’m sure our family alone doubled the number of kids attending.
Fifty years ago, churches had Sunday School followed by Worship Service every Sunday morning. Sunday School was a time of instruction, mostly for teaching kids, but most churches of my acquaintance also had adult Sunday School classes, but the folks who attended were mostly people with kids who were bringing them to be taught. The format was usually less formal than public school. Classes were small. There were often kids from 3 or 4 grades mixed together. Still, you were expected to listen to the teacher teach, not interrupt or talk in class, and generally behave yourself. At 14 I was really good at that, having attended church since before I could remember.
My Sunday School teacher at Delaware Assembly of God was a man in his 40s named Brother Shadwick. (In the Assemblies of God of my youth, every adult was either Brother or Sister from the pastor on down.) Brother Shadwick was short but wiry; he looked like a fighter with close-cropped hair, big ears and a bulbous nose, thick lips, and one of those sallow complexions that would go beet red when he got angry. He proved also to be proud and ignorant, always a dangerous combination.
Our class was in a small room off the fellowship hall. There couldn’t have been more than four or five of us. I don’t know if Brother Shadwick took an instant dislike to me, or if it was our first skirmish that made me his enemy. The lesson that day was about Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Brother Shadwick was trying to set the scene. He told us that fishing boat Jesus and the disciples were in was very small, about the size of a row boat.
I raised my hand.
“It must have been bigger than a row boat,” I said. “It held Jesus and twelve disciples and their fishing gear. Jesus fell asleep in the prow. How could he sleep in the prow of a row boat?”
Brother Shadwick looked daggers at me. He stopped the class and had us all bow our heads. He prayed that God would forgive my sins and overcome my rebellious spirit. I was embarrassed, of course, but I also knew that I was right and the Brother Shadwick was wrong. Rather than admit to being wrong, he had treated me as if I had done something shameful. I knew I was not rebellious. In fact I was a compliant child, and I resolved to keep my mouth shut unless I was called upon.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I was a 14-year-old boy. There is no other age when boys are more obnoxious. I was certainly not immune. I was no doubt tactless and cocky. But I was not interested in how he felt having his word questioned by a mere boy. I was interested in truth, and it mattered to me that he was changing the story to suit his own preconceptions. But after that incident I was wary.
Some months later another incident occurred. Our class had been combined with another, and we now met in the fellowship hall where there was more room. My younger sister, Lani was in the class. There may have been as many as a dozen students. This time the lesson was from Jonah. The story of Jonah is bizarre even compared to other Old Testament stories. The feature most people remember is that Jonah was swallowed by a whale and survived inside it for three days, but that is not what makes it truly bizarre. Taken as a whole, it is a story about the compassion of the God of Israel for people who were not Israelites, who were in fact enemies of Israel. The last sentence, which God addresses to Jonah as a question, makes the point explicit:
And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals? (Jonah 4:11)
Brother Shadwick claimed that this meant that the people of Nineveh were savages, unable even to tell their left hand from their right. He compared them to people living in mud huts, eking out a living at subsistence farming. Sitting there listening, I kept thinking, “I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to say anything.”
Then Brother Shadwick looked straight at me and asked, “Isn’t that right?”
What could I do? I pointed out that Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire, that they represented the dominant political power in the region at the time, and that the verse probably referred to children rather than to the entire population of the city. Brother Shadwick turned red. My sister rushed from the room to find our mom or dad. I found out later that she thought he was going to hit me. He did come toward me and stand over me. But he did not lay a hand on me. Instead he resorted once more to prayer for my rebellious spirit because I had dared to know more than he knew.
I do not know what resources Brother Shadwick turned to when he was preparing his Sunday School lessons. Perhaps he thought, as many people still think today, that he needed no resources but his own understanding to make sense of stories that were hundreds of years old. I was not so self-assured. My family had encyclopedias, bible dictionaries, study bibles, and alternate translations. When I read the bible, I referred to those resources to help me understand. I still use such helps when I read the bible.
Two more incidents help illuminate Brother Shadwick’s character. Both occurred shortly before my family left the church. The first was that Brother Shadwick got into a fight with a co-worker and was badly beaten. His nose was broken, and he came to church with his face heavily bandaged. He sued his attacker and lost. The judge decreed that Brother Shadwick had provoked his attacker, so no compensation was due. The second was a confrontation between Brother Shadwick and a new pastor who had come to set make things right at the church. I don’t remember what it was about. I just remember Brother Shadwick standing nose to nose with the pastor, flushed with anger, his hand balled into a fist and spitting his words between clenched teeth. He still had bandages on his nose. The pastor regarded him with absolute calm but refused to back down. We left that church, and it closed for good not long after.
Some people would have been soured on church forever by these incidents, but I was fortunate in several respects. My parents knew me well. They knew I was not trying to cause trouble or show up Brother Shadwick in front of the class. They didn’t berate or discipline me for standing up to Brother Shadwick when he said things that revealed his own prejudices, especially when he asked for my opinion. I also knew that Brother Shadwick was not best representing the character of Christ in these episodes, so they did not make me question God’s goodness. Besides, I had my own relationship with Christ, and he sustained me even when others who also claimed to follow him misunderstood me. So I bear Brother Shadwick no ill will. I hope he has found peace and been delivered from his anger.
4 responses to “Brother Shadwick”
It’s interesting, I think, to ponder our memories of troubled adults who had some authority in our young lives. Thanks for sharing these memories. I have memories of my first grade teacher who I thought was consistently mean to a couple of kids in the class. I was a very well-behaved first-grader, and a teacher favorite (I could read well beyond the first grade level and the teacher liked that). In particular there was one boy who was one of the youngest in the class, and quite shy. He was easily shamed and teased, and other kids as well as the teacher seemed to prey on him. When it was particularly bad, he sometimes wet his pants, and the teacher would always draw attention to that in front of the entire class. She always kept extra kids’ clothes around, and made such a big deal about when he had to use them. I remember thinking she was awful to him, and I never knew what to do. He was actually a really smart kid (and we still keep in touch occasionally!). I told my mother about this a few times, and she was usually sympathetic with the teacher, and told me the teacher was going through some tough personal times (she was going through a divorce). I didn’t really understand at the time why that would cause her to be especially mean to this one boy. The teacher was pretty strict in general, but this one shy boy really seemed to bug her.
Another memory of her was when my dog, Abbie, got run over by a car. I found out about it when I went home for lunch and my mother told me. I was very sad, but Mom insisted I return to school for the afternoon. Mom offered to write a note to the teacher to tell her that “Martha doesn’t feel good because her dog died.” I was satisfied with that. But when I gave it to the teacher, she looked at me and then put an empty coffee can next to my desk which she did for kids who felt nauseous. I remember thinking that she was very stupid – that she couldn’t tell the difference between a physical feeling and emotional feeling.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my elementary school years, but I have a lot of memories around this teacher and first grade. I might have been one of her favorite students at the time, but she wasn’t a favorite teacher! Perhaps my conflicted feelings about her at the time are why I have so many memories of this year.
Wow! Thanks for sharing, Marty. I too think that memories stay with us most when they are connected to strong feelings.
Thanks for correcting the story, Lani. I had forgotten about the singing. The whole church was sick. It was a good thing it died. It had festered long enough.
How well you tell these stories. I told Mama I never wanted to go to that church again. I didn’t think he was going to hit you. It made me sick to my stomach to see him use prayer in a way so abhorrent. He wasn’t talking to God, he was attempting to manipulate you and I could neither trust nor respect him afterward.
The other thing I remember about Brother Shadwick is his “duets” with his wife. As Mama would say, “he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” I could never understand why he was allowed to get up and embarrass himself that way.