By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Delbert and Jack Bishop look serious enough, but mischievous smiles belie lifelong inclinations to slip in practical jokes whenever they get a chance. They have been active preachers for 51 and 50 years respectively, sometimes serving as pastors or directors of missions, or as interim pastors or interim DOMs.
Over lunch recently, Delbert, at 77 the eldest of the two, dryly told a story that happened almost 70 years ago. "Jack made a boast that he could run faster than I could throw a rock," he recalled. "I gave him a head start down the road. I threw real hard -- and he didn't outrun it! It got him in the back of the head." Sitting across the table, Jack is now able to smile about the encounter.
The elder brother was stationed in Worms, Germany -- of Martin Luther fame -- while serving in the U.S. Army 51 years ago when he experienced the call to preach. He and his wife, Marjorie, were already married by then, and she recalled that he served as a chaplain's assistant and helped participate in a church-starting effort.
Jack, 74, remembers the exact date when he responded to the call to preach -- July 4, 1954. He has served in Charleston Baptist Association for 43 years. Since 1999, he has been the bivocational pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Chaffee, and he serves Charleston Association temporarily as interim DOM. He served as DOM of the association from 1971 to 1980.
For the most part, the two have served in the same area in southeast Missouri, most of those in the same association.
Delbert was director of missions in Meramac Baptist Association before he retired and served a string of interim pastorates before he became pastor of Bement Baptist Church, Sikeston -- his current pastorate -- more than seven years ago.
Jack served First Baptist Church in Oran for 13 years, until he retired in 1993, and Delbert and his wife have lived in the community for several years, prompting one to quip, "The town of Oran has not been without a Bishop for several years."
They've both gotten a kick out of being Baptist Bishops. Their father's name was Archie, making them sons of an Arch Bishop. (They insist they're telling the truth).
"We live beside a Catholic priest in Chaffee," said Kathy, Jack's wife. "He says, 'This is my bishop.'" By the way, Marjorie and Kathy are sisters from a large Indiana family.
Jack acknowledged that it has been nice having his brother around him most of his life. "There have been a lot of times I've called upon him," he said. "He's been a good big brother." Added Delbert, "It's been real good. I tell him I love him every once in a while."
Delbert won't soon forget the joke his little brother played when Delbert arrived to help him in revival. "I had arrived on the field, and he said the lady at the newspaper wanted to meet me." The poor lady had dropped her hearing aid and broke it recently, Jack had told him, so Delbert needed to speak a little louder when they dropped by the newspaper office. Jack gave a similar story to the woman about Delbert, prompting both to nearly shout their conversation.
"Jack was bent over double, laughing up a storm," Delbert recalled.
After more than 50 years, neither can imagine not being a minister. When a teacher once asked Delbert as a youngster what he wanted to be when he grew up, he blurted out, "I want to be a preacher."
"I've wondered since then what I would rather do. I can't think of a thing."
Jack echoed that testimony. "About two years after I surrendered to preach, I began with the Kroger Company in Indiana," he recalled. "I got involved in pioneer mission work. And Kroger gave me a lot of advancement opportunities." Tempted to continue with the company, Jack knew in his heart he needed to move on into the pastorate.
What has been the best thing about being in the ministry?
"Being alive to tell about it," Delbert quipped before turning serious. "I think one of the greatest blessings both of us had had is after having been gone for years, a young person would come back and say thanks."
Jack recalled an exchange when he was preaching in a church and a young man in his 20s greeted him. "Do you remember me?" he asked. "You led me to the Lord in summer camp."
Such encounters make it all worthwhile.