Retirement was not in the vocabulary of my uncle, John Calvin Wingard. Since ‘retiring’ from a lifetime of ministry at age 70, he pastored two churches, one for nineteen years and a second for the remaining three years of his life.
Two weeks ago he was out making pastoral visits to his small flock at First Presbyterian Church in Ripley, Tennessee. On Mother’s Day, he drove fifteen miles to do what he did most Sundays for the past 68 years, proclaim God’s word.
The next day, one of his sons drove him to Tupelo, Mississippi to visit his oncologist. He was informed that treatments would yield no further benefits. He walked into a hospital without assistance. By the end of the week he was unconscious, and last Wednesday, with his two sons present, died at age 92.
John Calvin Wingard was the son of Tom and Dorinda Wingard, a Methodist couple who came to love the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Uncle John, along with his siblings Martha and George (my Dad), memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism. John and George became Presbyterian ministers; Martha a school teacher who loved to teach the scriptures.
A Navy veteran, he graduated from Arkansas College (now Lyons College) in 1948. He obtained Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. He served churches in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee: First Presbyterian Church (Paragould, Arkansas); Handsboro Presbyterian Church (Handsboro, Mississippi); Union Presbyterian Church (Memphis, Tennessee); Liberty Presbyterian Church (Liberty, Mississippi); First Presbyterian Church (Ripley, Tennessee); Westminster Presbyterian Church (Milton, Florida); McDonald Presbyterian Church (Collins, Mississippi), First Presbyterian Church (Water Valley, Mississippi); New Life Reformed Presbyterian Church (Munford, Tennessee). He has been a member of Covenant Presbytery (PCA) since 1986.
While serving the church in Ripley, he delivered weekly radio Bible studies, recently teaching through Romans and Daniel. His last lesson will air tomorrow.
In 1961 he married Betty Jo Soyars, a marriage that lasted 53 years until her death in 2014. They have two sons. John Wingard Jr. is a philosophy professor at Covenant College and a ruling elder at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Clifton was a mathematics professor at Delta State, and is now an instructor at The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Mississippi, and has played the organ for many churches in Mississippi and Tennessee.
Recollections of a Well-Lived Life
Uncle John baptized me 60 years ago. Last summer he told me he’s glad it stuck.
When I was 14, three events led me to believe that God was calling me to gospel ministry. One took place on a Lord’s Day morning while visiting my uncle’s church in Ripley during his first tenure there. As he preached and my father sat beside me, I sensed that being a pastor was the Lord’s will for my life too.
Both Uncle John and my Dad were skilled in the art of pastoral visitation. When my grandmother died while I was in college, I took the bus to her funeral service in Memphis. At the time, Uncle John was pastoring in Mississippi. He received word that a young lady from his old church in Ripley was in the hospital. So, he did what pastors do; he went and visited her, taking me along. The patient was thrilled to see him, and asked what brought him to Memphis. “Visiting family,” Uncle John said, making no mention of his Mother’s death. He concluded the visit with a scripture reading, a brief comment on it, and prayer – also my Dad’s practice and now mine.
Water Valley, Mississippi was the first place I preached for a Bible conference. My uncle invited me in the mid-1980s at a time when he was battling his first bout with cancer. He took his long stint of chemotherapy treatments on Mondays so that he could be back in the pulpit on Sunday.
In my book Help for the New Pastor, I wrote “My uncle, John Calvin Wingard, has modeled faithful pastoral ministry during his long life, and even now, at age ninety-one, he continues to pastor and inspire.” I sent him a copy of the book. Clifton told me he put his other reading aside and read it.
He then wrote me a letter, amusing and touching, that I will always cherish:
. . . Your book has enabled me to reminisce. It called to mind even things in my seminary days. Like the time after speaking before the faculty when one of the professors suggested that I should stay behind the pulpit because of my figure. Or the time when I went to Selma, Alabama, and was given a convertible to drive to my appointed churches. The car got more attention than my “sermon” that day.
Thank you for writing. Thank you for this special ministry to students and experienced pastors. Thank you for giving me a copy of your book which will be a treasure to me.
Last month was the last time I spoke with Uncle John. Cell phones were not his thing. He told his pharmacist, Andy Van Cleve, a high school classmate of mine, that he had tried to call me but I wouldn’t answer. So, wouldn’t he please go on Facebook and ask me to call him? I did, and the reason for his call was to compliment Lynne’s recent piece in RTS’s Ministry & Leadership Magazine.
He loved Lynne. The last time I saw him was at the hospice facility in Tupelo last Sunday. Lynne went beside his bed and said his name. His eyes opened. He said her name and leaned up to kiss her cheek. He then lapsed back into unconsciousness.
Today I preached at Uncle John’s funeral at Ebenezer Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Mason, Tennessee, my Aunt Betty Jo’s home church. My text was Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”