Today, May 25, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the passing of W. Carl Ketcherside of St. Louis, Missouri at the age of 81. I knew him for a few years in person as an adult, but I “met” him through his writings a quarter-century before that, as a young man about 14, growing up in Limestone County in North Alabama. My father, Bennie Lee Fudge, regularly received a wide variety of religious publications. I skimmed some of them, read most, and devoured a few–including Mission Messenger, Brother Ketcherside’s personal monthly publication. Each issue contained two or three articles by him, and a section relating his own recent adventures and upcoming schedule, plus items from and about his subscribers.
In Mission Messenger, I discovered the same vision of Christian unity that inspired the founders of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, and the Churches of Christ with which my family on both sides had long been associated. It was a joyful vision–in stark contrast to the foul judgmental spirit so common among us in that time and place. I also welcomed Mission Messenger, because it was somehow so “familiar”–and no wonder. The same willingness to learn new truth, and open heart to receive others who also were seeking truth, was a trademark of my parents, and the same spirit that guided my maternal grandfather, W. N. Short, for six decades a missionary in Northern and Southern Rhodesia in southern Africa.
In 1962, I enrolled as a freshman at Florida Christian College in a suburb of Tampa, Fla., and was elected Freshman Class President and President of the Sower’s Club–an organization for “preacher boys,” with Professor Homer Hailey its sponsor. With Brother Hailey’s permission, I personally ordered bundles of Mission Messenger each month and shared them with the other club-members. When Lecture Week arrived that year and the preachers descended on the campus en masse, one of those preachers, Cecil Willis, editor of an extremist journal misnamed “Truth Magazine” cornered me one day on campus, told me he had heard that I was “going off after Ketcherside,” and warned me of the dire consequences awaiting me if I did not change my ways. Of course such attempts to intimidate me into joining his sectarian clique had the very opposite effect.
In 1968, Sara Faye and I moved to Kirkwood, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, home of Carl Ketcherside. About one-third of the congregation for whom I served as preacher had grown up under his influence if not his direct ministry. Brother Carl and I spent some time together during my years there, but he told me he kept his distance much of the time to protect my reputation! One of the most widely-educated men I have known, and certainly one of the most eloquent, Brother Ketcherside never attended college. But he had–as he once told me–read three books a week for the past thirty years. By all who knew him, he is remembered today as a kind and gentle man, a “prophet without honor,” indeed a servant of God who regularly returned good for evil and willingly suffered for the sake of others. Sleep in Jesus, Brother Carl–we will see you in the Morning!