CRAWFORD COUNTY --
Frank Chapman knew he wanted to be a preacher from the time he was knee-high to a grasshopper, cricket, gnat or any critter that wandered up from Echeconnee Creek.
When he was 9 years old, he stood on a stump in his daddy’s field and preached a sermon to his brothers and sisters. They didn’t understand what he was saying, but that was OK. Neither did he.
He just knew the gift stirred within him. It would take a long time to answer the call. He was 34 when he was ordained as a minister.
This past Sunday, Chapman stood in the pulpit at Fellowship Evangelistic Church on Sandy Point Road in Lizella. It was the church’s homecoming, and he was one of the founding founders in 1942.
It was also his final sermon. Chapman is 92 years old. He called it “Homecoming and Homegoing.’’
It was emotional, and he prayed for the strength to get through it. It has been a tough year. He lost his wife, Dorothy, the week before Thanksgiving in 2011. They had been married for 70 years.
About 175 people were in the congregation, almost half from some branch of the Chapman family tree. Nobody was in a hurry to go home right after the church service, either, since they had worked up an appetite by the second verse of the closing hymn, “Going Home.’’ They filled their plates with fried chicken and potato salad and stayed around for the fellowship at Fellowship.
Although it was the first sermon Chapman had preached at Fellowship since he left in 1986, he has never been very far away. He pastored several small churches in Fort Valley, and he has been supply preaching whenever and wherever needed.
Church folks will tell you there’s a difference between a preacher and a minister. Preachers tell stories from the garden of Gethsemane and the battle of Jericho. Ministers keep vigil when you are sick or hurting, ready to lift you up or break your fall.
Chapman has been ministering in his corner of the world for most of his life. His church has been more than just a red brick building at the top of a hill. It has been an at-large community, connected by open fields and narrow roads. He has prayed at kitchen tables and front porches from Marshall Mill to Sandy Point to every mailbox along the Bibb-Crawford county line.
He has lived his 92 years in just six houses, all of them within a few miles of each other along the Route 1 Lizella mail route. His father was a hard-working farmer who pulled his family through the Depression. They had food on the table because they grew and raised it themselves. Chapman had shoes for his feet, although he hated to wear them. He would always leave them in a hollow log on the way to the two-room schoolhouse every morning and showed up at school barefooted.
His father took him to church at Dixon United Methodist, where Chapman first entertained thoughts of becoming a preacher.
But those aspirations began to ebb as a young man. In a two-year span, he graduated from Roberta-Crawford County High School, his father died and he married Dorothy six months before Pearl Harbor.
The Army wouldn’t take him because of flat feet and a heart murmur. He held a variety of jobs, from working at the Bibb Mill for $13 a week to the Naval Ordnance Plant, farming and doing carpentry. With the help of an uncle, he built a farmhouse and wired it for electricity long before the power lines were stretched across his property.
In 1942, he and Dorothy were driving through Roberta on a Saturday night and pulled over at a revival tent. It was a spiritual experience that changed his life.
That same year, he and others started Fellowship, where he would later serve as pastor for 30 years. Dorothy taught Sunday School.
Although he had talked about becoming a preacher when he was a child, he wasn’t always sure of himself.
“I was timid,’’ he said. “I wasn’t sure I could get up and talk in front of other people.’’
But he did. He was ordained in 1954. In his 58 years in the ministry, he performed hundreds of weddings and funerals. He married folks, buried folks and baptized them in places like Tucker’s Lake and Hogan’s Pond.
He and Dorothy had a son, Franklin, and a daughter, Sandra Vaughn. Their other three children, who all died as infants, were among the first buried in the church cemetery at Fellowship.
He prepared many of his pastoral duties from a tiny study at his home. It is a converted half-bath -- the ultimate prayer closet -- so compact he can practically reach out and touch a wall in any direction.
He has worn out five Bibles across parts of seven different decades. He has had the cover replaced twice on a black-leather King James Bible he was issued on Jan. 30, 1953. He carries it practically everywhere. The tattered pages now fall apart in his hands.
It is the Bible he wants placed with him in the casket when he dies.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org