It was several weeks ago I wrote about receiving this book, my dad’s Pastoral Record, when I was over in northwest Arkansas visiting my two sisters. In addition to documenting the churches Dad served over his 40+ year career as a Presbyterian minister, this book chronicled in his own handwriting all the baptisms, weddings, and funerals he performed. The last section of the book held the key to a question that had been on my mind ever since I started my multi-year pilgrimage of reading each and every one of his sermons—just how many sermons did my dad give over his entire ministry? The answer was surprisingly 3,362.
But the other question I had been wanting to answer—how many sermons did he write? —had proven more elusive. It actually took some diligent sleuthing, close scrutiny of multiple records, and a bit of accounting to elucidate the final answer.
The first clue I had was this typed numerical listing of sermons that I received from my sister when she gave me all of dad’s sermons. This listing included numbered sermons through 706. However, when I organized his sermons into numerical order, I discovered folders going through 710. Looking at the dates of when these last four sermons were first given, I realized he had written them after he retired in December of 1989, thus explaining why he had not added them to his typed list that he kept while an active, full-time minister.
Scanning through the Pastoral Record where he had recorded the numbered sermon out to the right of the sequential sermon he gave, I determined there were no sermon numbers higher than 710 at least confirming there were no missing folders. But then when I went through this numerical sermon listing in more detail, I discovered two things.
First, for some unknown reason, he had handwritten two additional sermons onto his typed list, 356a and 357a. I can only assume these were somehow related to the un-suffixed sermon number. So that seemed to indicate that he had written 712 sermons.
However, when I flipped over a couple of more pages, I discovered there were seven numbers never used, obviously place holders for sermon ideas. So, subtracting seven from my previous tally yielded 705 sermons.
Pulling the first couple of these folders out, I got a glimpse into my dad’s creative process.
I learned that even before he developed a working title for the sermon, he would write out a premise and then jot down some thoughts. Then he would use a Sermon Work Sheet that he probably got in Seminary to fill in the details for the sermon.
Intrigued, I pulled out the rest of these unused number folders to see if he got any further along with these unfinished sermons and was surprised to find that in folder #455, it was in fact a completed sermon that he never did go back and type in the title on his numerical listing. That then moves us back to a total of 706 sermons.
But then there is this other small three binder that includes what appear to be unnumbered sermons. I also got this book from my sister several years ago when I received the boxes of sermons. Loose inside was the typed numerical listing of dad’s sermons.
This book includes 53 “sermons” that Dad gave while we lived in West Monroe, LA in the 1960s. All of these were given at the Sunday evening service which was a shorter service than the 11:00 AM service. Thinking that he would not reuse any of these since they were shorter than his typical sermons, he must have decided not to number them.
Thanks to Dad’s double entry bookkeeping, I could cross reference the handwritten date on one of these sermons with its corresponding date in his Pastoral Record. Under the Remarks section which always included the time of the service, Dad had additionally written in the word “Study.” Aha. Dad did not consider these as sermons but rather shorter Bible studies. But he still recorded them as a sermon in his Record of Sermons Delivered.
If I had known of the existence of any of these records while Dad was still alive, I could have asked him about this to help solve the puzzle. This may seem odd that I would want to know this, but I am in fact a detail-oriented person. Unable to ask him that question now, I will default to his Pastoral Record and consider them sermons rather than studies. For in reality, it is really just a matter of semantics.
With that declaration made, I can now tally up all of Dad’s sermons. Adding together the 706 numbered sermons with these 53 unnumbered sermons gives a grand total of 759! Not bad.
If you have been a follower of my blog for a while, you know that I always publish my posts early on Sunday morning, but you may or may not know the reason why. It’s in honor of my dad for his 40+ years of ministry delivering a sermon every Sunday morning. It’s my small way of carrying on his legacy by delivering a message every Sunday morning.
In 2016 when I got my dad’s sermon folders from my sister and discovered how many sermons he had written, I wondered if I would ever write and publish enough blog posts to rival the number of his sermons. That thought has probably driven me these past couple of years to learn exactly how many sermons Dad did write.
Well, I started this blog in February of 2013 and since then I have written and published 445 posts. I am not there yet but at least I have a good start. So, stay tuned!