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Last updated: Sat. Jun. 14, 2008 - 01:29 pm EDT

Father-son ministries

Pastorate passed down in paternity for several locally

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One of David A. Keller’s earliest memories is crawling up on his father’s back as he lay on his belly on the living-room floor.

“His prayer posture is he likes to stretch out on the floor, and I’d be crawling up on his back. I was a toddler, but night in and night out, I’d pray with him. That just kind of gets into the fiber of you,” he recalls.

Indeed, what Keller, 27, can’t recall is a time when he wasn’t immersed in his father’s Christian ministry.

By elementary school, he says, he would follow his dad, the Rev. David E. Keller, to church meetings and tag along on hospital visits. By 17, the younger Keller was studying to become a pastor himself.

Now he shares the pulpit with his dad at Fort Wayne’s Abundant Life Church, a growing Pentecostal congregation at 3301 Coliseum Blvd. E.

“He’s had on-the-job training since he was 9 years old, the elder Keller, 61, says of his son. “Sometimes we’ll butt heads a bit, but being father and son, and the love that’s there, that gets resolved very quickly.”

The Kellers, who have been working together since 1999, are only two of the father-and-son ministers in Fort Wayne who will be celebrating Father’s Day on Sunday.

Elbert Haywood, pastor at Christ Temple, 1327 Winter St., has launched his son and stepson into ministry.

Mark Haywood, 29, is pastor of Christ Kingdom Church, at the former Wings of Deliverance Tabernacle at Piqua and Wildwood avenues. Haywood’s stepson, Jeffrey Thomas, 40, is pastor of Life Changing Ministries, 437 W. Rudisill Blvd.

The Rev. Vernon Graham, 62, longtime executive pastor of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, recently saw his son Timothy follow him into the Lutheran pastorate.

“As a father, I’m honored and pleased that the Lord has called him to ministry, and what’s truly amazing is he called us to the same church, and only 30 years apart,” the elder Graham says.

The Rev. Timothy Graham, 37, now leads the recently renamed Light of the Cross Worship Center at 2940 S. Anthony Blvd. The site was formerly Grace Lutheran Church.

All the younger pastors say they’re proud to follow in their fathers’ footsteps – and their dads aren’t inclined to disagree.

“They have each given me a lot of wonderful moments, but I suppose that when I watched both of them be installed and had a hand in those services, that was the best. I was just pleased as punch, and I was glad my (late) wife (Julia) lived to see it,” Haywood says.

“You feel like you’ve done something that is going to have some eternal significance in the world,” he adds.

Haywood, a father of seven who oversees 23 Indiana congregations, had a greater hand in his sons’ ministerial training than the other pastoral fathers.

In the Black Apostolic Pentecostal tradition of which he is a part, ministers are licensed after they complete studies under another minister. That allowed Haywood to school his son and stepson personally.

In the Kellers’ case, David A. Keller, largely home-schooled, graduated from Indiana Bible College in Indianapolis.

His first position was as the full-time youth pastor at his father’s church, where he started a Friday night youth program called The Alternative – and did whatever else needed doing.

“He always taught me that ministry requires everything. If there’s a yard to be mowed, you roll up your sleeves and do it yourself,” David A. Keller says.

Training lay leaders in the church’s Connect Points community evangelism program and managing the day-to-day affairs of the church, which employs about 40 people and has a child-care center and a Christian school, have become the younger Keller’s bailiwicks.

The two Kellers share preaching at the weekly service at 2:15 p.m. on Sundays. The elder Keller does most of “the heavy counseling,” his son says, and much of the teaching for the church’s Life Development Institute.

“He’s the biggest resource we have at this church. We have a wealth of wisdom to draw from,” David A. Keller says. “He sets the spiritual direction, and he wants the bottom-line results to happen.

“There aren’t two heads at this congregation. He steers it; I just put the legs on it.”

Jeffrey Thomas says he wasn’t at all sure being a pastor was for him. Indeed, his stepfather says, Thomas ran in the other direction for a while, perhaps because he knew too well what ministry entailed.

“They certainly understand all the good things about it, but they also understand the bad things that pastors go through and pastors’ families go through because they’ve lived it,” Elbert Haywood says.

“On Sundays, it’s all love and happiness, but what I say is if that pastor takes his robe off, there’s scars underneath.”

Mark Haywood was more set in the direction of ministry because of his father’s influence.

“More than anything, growing up with him, he’s been an excellent example of what a Christian is, and what a pastor is. I’ve had a lifetime of experiencing what it means to serve people and have a shepherd’s heart,” he says.

“And I love his preaching. He’s one of my biggest influences in my style of preaching. People say I sound like him.”

The Rev. Timothy Graham was on his way to a master’s degree in business management when he felt the call to ministry. He graduated from Wartburg Theological Seminary in Iowa, his father’s alma mater.

“I’d strayed away from the church for several years, but I think it was kind of inbred,” he says, adding his daughter Larraine, then 6, pushed him in the pastoral direction by telling him he should be a pastor one night at the dinner table after he said grace.

“I remember as a 7- or 8-year-old I’d go into the pulpit after church on Sunday and ‘preach.’ I’ve always had a deep-rooted love for the church, and I see my father’s ministry as important in propelling my life.”

Graham and his wife, Michelle, have four children: Sashelle, 19, Timothy Jr., 15, Larraine, 13, and Robert, 8.

The Rev. David E. Keller, whose daughter, Tamara, is married to a pastor, believes his role now is to provide a smooth transition for his church.

Having leadership by two connected generations has aided the congregation in attracting new members of both age groups, he says.

“I have to stay aware of the fact that it’s a new generation. I’ve come to the place where I can say, ‘I refuse to let the church get old just because I am.’ But I know if I back out and eventually retire, it won’t be a crisis.”

It might not even be a crisis when his son gets to retirement age. The younger Keller and his wife, Anna, are expecting a baby in about five months.

They don’t yet know whether it’s a girl or a boy.

“We find out next week,” David A. Keller says with a smile. “Yeah, who knows?”

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