By Kara Witherow, Editor
In the late 1800s, Mary and Charles Shepard were faithful members of Brunswick First United Methodist Church. Their daughter Lillian married George Bright Culpepper, a Methodist minister. Today, more than 100 years later, the Shepard’s great-great grandson, Dr. Wright Culpepper, and great-great-great grandson, Rev. Bill Culpepper, are following in their footsteps, serving and worshiping in the same downtown Brunswick church.
Dr. Culpepper, an ordained elder, was appointed Brunswick First UMC’s senior pastor upon Rev. Jim McIlrath’s June retirement. He will continue his work at Faithworks and his chaplaincy ministry at the Southeast Georgia Heath System. Rev. Culpepper is an ordained deacon and will work with the congregation and community in that capacity, teaching, preaching, and serving.
Both have deep roots in Glynn County. Dr. Culpepper has served in the area for 29 years and is well-known for his work with the homeless community and those in need through Faithworks, the nondenominational social services ministry he leads. Though Rev. Culpepper recently moved from Macon where he served Mulberry Street United Methodist Church for six years, he grew up on St. Simons Island and graduated from Glynn Academy, which happens to sit directly behind Brunswick First UMC.
With their ties to the community and a shared love for the area, the appointments made sense, the Culpeppers said.
“We’ve always had a fondness for this particular congregation,” Dr. Culpepper said.
While there are several father-son pastors in the South Georgia Conference, it’s unusual, perhaps unheard of in the South Georgia Conference, for a father and son to co-pastor a church, but the Culpeppers say that church and conference leaders are willing to give it a shot.
And though just a few weeks in, things seems to be going well so far, Rev. Culpepper said.
They will share responsibilities, with the elder Culpepper preaching three Sundays a month and the younger taking the fourth. They plan to co-pastor the congregation by age, with those 40 and older being pastored by Dr. Culpepper and those younger than 40 being served by Rev. Culpepper. They will both make hospital visits and both of their office doors will be open to the whole congregation.
“We want the entire church to be able to come to either of us,” Rev. Culpepper said.
“They’re getting a 60-year-old brain and 30-year-old legs,” Dr. Culpepper said.
One of Rev. Culpepper’s main goals will be to foster relationships with faculty, staff, and families of next-door Glynn Academy.
“We want to find ways to adopt that community, to show them love, and to give them opportunities to worship,” he said.
The hope is that the congregation would first focus on serving Glynn Academy and then expand to include nearby Glynn Middle School and, beyond that, more Glynn County schools.
Dr. Culpepper, who has a parish mentality towards ministry, wants Brunswick First UMC to be a vibrant downtown church.
“The church … needs to equip members to take care of a community,” he said. “I love ministry beyond the walls of the church.”
Rev. Culpepper grew up watching his dad serving and caring for those society often overlooks and joked that his dad should have gone down a slightly different ministerial path.
“He should have been a deacon,” he said, alluding to the fact that his father serves the poor, the sick, and the oppressed, just as deacons are called to do. “We say deacons have one foot in the church and one foot in the world, and that’s what he does.”
As Dr. Culpepper ponders the working relationship he and his son have he thinks back to his own father and grandfather who together formed Culpepper and Culpepper, attorneys at law. There’s a history of fathers and sons working together in the Culpepper family.
Though they’re not practicing law, they hope to be in ministry together for years.
“We’re now Culpepper and Culpepper, purveyors of grace.”