The Greatest Generation

Brenda and Karl Stegall

Tom Brokaw wrote an interesting book several years ago that he entitled, The Greatest Generation. He described his visit to Normandy where he walked on Omaha Beach alongside American soldiers who were a part of D-Day on June 6, 1944. As he listened to their stories, Brokaw became convinced that those courageous soldiers were a part of “The Greatest Generation.” He wrote, “Many farm kids who had never seen the ocean signed up for the Navy. When they answered their call, they were forced to
make their way across North Africa, the deadly beaches of France and Italy, the freezing winters of Europe, and the searing heat of the little known islands of the South Pacific. Young wives and children did not see their husbands or fathers for months at a time, if ever again.”

When I read Tom Brokaw’s inspiring book, I was reminded that the United Methodist Church, in a different realm, has its own list of those who were a part of “The Greatest Generation.” There was a time in our nation’s history, long before I was born, when Methodism was, by far, the most influential denomination in America. Our mothers and fathers in the faith passionately shared the good news of Jesus Christ. They built churches, hospitals, orphanages, children’s home, and homes for the aged all across the world. They founded colleges and universities like Auburn, Birmingham Southern, Duke, Emory, Huntingdon, Syracuse, Southern California, and Vanderbilt. Even during a time of extreme poverty in Alabama and northwest Florida, young adults answered the call of God upon their lives to become ordained ministers and somehow found a way to attend Asbury, Duke, Emory, SMU, and Vanderbilt in an effort to become more equipped as servants of Jesus Christ. They were willing to go where they were sent. I have heard and read stories of Methodist ministers in by-gone years who attended Annual Conference, having no idea where they were going, until their names were read aloud by the Bishop at the close of Conference. Oftentimes, there were great cheers, and on a few occasions, there were a few tears. Yet, all of them went back home, uprooted their spouses and children on a moment’s notice, loaded up their meager possessions in a borrowed truck, and joyfully moved to their new appointment. Looking back across the years, our church owes a great debt of gratitude, not only to those clergy members long ago, but also to their spouses and children that paid such a great sacrifice.

Is it little wonder today that many of our most loyal and faithful supporters of our seminary students are widows, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of former Methodist ministers? You see, they know firsthand the sacrifices that were made along the way. The largest gift that this Foundation ever received came from Irene Miller, the widow of Dr. Carlisle Miller, who served both his nation and his church as a part of “The Greatest Generation.” We have received numerous gifts, small and large, from clergy descendants in places like Citronelle, Demopolis, Eclectic, Fairhope, Goshen, Graceville, Headland, Indian Springs, Jay, and even Knoxville, Tennessee. One such gift came in the mail this week from a descendant of a Methodist minister with an attached note, “I know that this is the time of the year when Methodists will be gathering for the Alabama-West Florida Conference and some will be moving to new appointments. I have been thinking so much lately about my dear father and mother. I vividly remember all the moves that I made with them as a child. I just wanted to send this gift for our seminary students in loving memory of their sacrificial service. God has always been faithful!”

-Karl K. Stegall

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