It’s just a fact, but a fact it is, that the teachers who most influenced my life early on were Methodists.
San Jacinto Elementary in Amarillo, Texas, was evidently a hotbed of Methodism. Or maybe it was just that my primary school path there was colored by the presence of three of them. Someday I’ll write another column and give Baptists and Church of Christ folks and Lutherans, etc., some well-deserved good words for their blessing in my life. But today, these fifty years after they taught me, I’m thanking God for three “Methodees,” as Franklin Roosevelt smilingly called their breed.
My first grade teacher was Mrs. Vera Carmody. I thought she was old and fierce. But she couldn’t have been what the Bible describes as “full of years” because she had a great many left to fill up. She lived to be 1000 or so. (Actually, 101! Born in 1899; died in 2000!)
But I was right about the fierce part. (Lucille Ball’s red hair was just a sparkler compared to Mrs. Carmody’s fireball red!) Mrs. Carmody was fiercely devoted to teaching first-graders not only how to read but how to live. She checked our hair, our teeth, and our fingernails, as well as the notebooks where we pasted pictures of apples for A, bananas for B, etc. I’d still like to see some trendy educational egghead try to tell Mrs. Carmody that kids could learn to read worth squat and not be taught phonics. She’d swat the prof’s hand with her legendary ruler, sit his tail in a chair, and enforce silence in the room until he sounded out whatever word she prescribed for his cure.
I don’t know if Mrs. Carmody believed that “every child can learn.” But I’m sure she believed every child in her classroom darn well would learn—or else. Fierce? Oh, yes! She fiercely loved us all. Methodist, she was.
And then there was Mrs. Maxine Faulkner. Third grade. I learned the “Lord’s Prayer” not at church where I should have, but in Mrs. Faulkner’s third grade class. We stood and recited that prayer, along with the Pledge of Allegiance, every morning. We had no idea how much damage we were doing to the Constitution of these United States. (I’m kidding. And crying.) I remember singing as she played the piano. By the way, she played the piano for her Sunday School class two months before she died. Also age 101! Methodist, she was.
Setting the tone for the whole school (all six grades) was one of the finest men I’ve ever known, Mr. Robert Birchfield. I will always think of this big, kind, gentle, amazingly strong and loving man with deep affection and gratitude. A father to us all, what a smile he had! What a hug! What a man! Methodist, he was.
All three of these folks were members of Amarillo’s Polk Street United Methodist Church. No particular point here—other than what a nice thing it is for any congregation when folks think of their members and “blessing” in the same thought—I’ve just always had very warm feelings toward Polk Street UMC and these three fine “Methodees.” I owe them much.
Christians, they were. Unashamedly so. Committed to Christ and thus committed to little children like me.
I hope I’ve made them proud. I know I thank God every day that folks of deep faith, and these three of the Methodist variety, have been such a blessing to me.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at