Rev. James Edward Culpepper Ph.D.1
|Father*||Thomas Rushing Culpepper2|
|Mother*||Frances Edlyn Copeland2 (3 Oct 1921 - Sep 1964)|
|Doris Sherron Prestage|
|Charts||Orphan / Joel Culpepper of Harris Co., GA: Descendant Chart|
|Last Edited||12 Feb 2010|
- Not One to ‘Curse God and Die,’ Pastor Ed Culpepper Survives His Blindness with Hope and Humor
For Ed Culpepper, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in Huntsville, the phrase "wait and see" has taken a literal meaning.
"I am continuing to fight and kick and hope for whatever restoration of vision might be possible," Culpepper says calmly. "If I ultimately don’t see improvement, I can go on with life and not feel like I have to ‘curse God and die’."
Such is the resilience of Culpepper, 38, who over the past year has lost his sight as a result of a disease that destroys blood vessels that feed the retina.
Over a year after surgery and treatment on his left eye, he suffered a hemorrhage last September following treatment on his right eye, leading to a partially detached retina. He underwent surgery in Memphis on Oct. 23, 1990, while the Madison Association held its annual meeting in his church, which last Sunday celebrated its 30th anniversary. In a cruel coincidence,, his wife Sherron’s father underwent quintuple bypass surgery on his heart during the same week.
Since October, Culpepper has undergone three more surgeries – "a member of the surgery of the month club," he says jokingly – the latest in February, and now he waits for the rehabilitation process to take effect. Doctors say he should know within a year whether he’ll be able to see again.
As a pastor, Culpepper has had to adjust without the simple pleasure of reading and studying. His desk is now cluttered with a variety of tape machines – at least one recorder to play tapes and another to record notes as he prepares sermons.
"Alexander Scourby and I are good friends," he says of the narrator of a series of Bible tapes. "Friends like David Tew (pastor of the First Baptist Church, Madison) have read biblical studies onto tapes, and I get The Alabama Baptist on tape. Then there is the Talking Books program through the Library of Congress, which makes news magazines available."
An admitted news hound, he misses the easy access to a newspaper – the sports pages, headlines, and comics – and he notices the difference in his reading speed (800 words per minute) and normal talking speed (150 wpm).
As husband, and father to two young sons, Tom and Dan, Culpepper has also had to adjust to changes in home life.
"Last September, I was helping with Dan’s soccer team, and I’ll miss seeing the boys develop," he says. "Just a couple of weeks ago, Tom and Dan were involved in the Pinewood Derby races in Boy Scouts, and although we did some modifications, I’ll miss the carving and shaping of the cars.
"Things have settled into more of a routine at home. I’m still a dad, and read the papers they bring home from school. Both Tom and Dan have been very helpful in learning to be sighted guides. Church member remark about Dan’s face lighting up as he leads me down from the platform for the children’s sermon."
Sherron Culpepper, who is approved by the Alabama Baptist Convention as a state worker for special education, said in a recent article in The Huntsville Times that the changes have been stressful, but that she has concentrated on "coping and regrouping."
"Sherron is a very calm, strong person," says her husband, "both personally and in her Christian faith. Initially, we share a lot of anxiety over the unknown, over just how – in the short and long term – it would affect our family. That has passed very quickly. We talk hopefully, even though there are a lot of things we don’t know about the long-term picture."
The future may be unclear, but Culpepper remains keenly aware of the humorous side of everyday life.
"Day to day, Sherron and I heave a shared sigh and confront the closet. She tries to describe what’s in it, and I try to describe what I want to wear. We are learning how to describe ties – this one’s a bright paisley, and this one’s the muted paisley.
"I’m also learning how to find and cut a steak. If someone can tell me what’s 10-2-4 on the plate, I can pretty well dispose of it."
His ability to adjust emotionally to the loss of his sight may be the outgrowth of a childhood experience.
Culpepper’s mother died when he was 12 years old. Fortunately, however, he and his father and brother were able to count on the comfort and support of longtime family friends, the Westerfields, who were as close to the Culpeppers as blood relatives. Mr. Westerfield having died a year before Culpepper’s mother died, the families grew closer as the years went by. Eventually, Culpepper’s father married Mrs. Westerfield, and the combined family has managed to avoid the struggles of other "blended families," Culpepper said.
"In that situation, at the time of a child’s worst fear – the death of one of his parents – I learned that God’s grace came in unexpected ways, even when things looked awfully bleak. I learned that life can continue and flourish, and that the grace of God operated in dark circumstances."
Culpepper still finds comfort in his father’s words to him after one of his surgeries: "I know that whatever the future holds, you will be able to cope because over the years, I have seen you stand in the face of difficulties."
Culpepper has also found support from letters and phone calls across the Southern Baptist Convention. Messengers at last November’s Alabama Baptist Convention meeting prayed for him specifically, "an incredible feeling," Culpepper says.
And the congregation at Mountain View, Culpepper says, has been remarkable, ministering to him and to his family, and learning to accept a subtle change in sermon style.
"My sermons are different in structure than they were before I lost my eyesight," he explains. "I preach with a greater sense of freedom, without the fear that some finely-honed phrase will have to be delivered exactly as written. And I think the congregation listens more expectantly. These things have combined to produce a new dynamic spark in our worship services.
"Of course," he laughs, "the congregation also wonders how I know when to stop."
Culpepper has solved that problem with a talking watch, one of the many resources he is finding to be available. He is also learning mobility training, hoping he can eventually use a cane to navigate the mile walk from his house to the church
He has adjusted his emotional life as well, falling back on the support of his family and church, and on the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11, "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
"He doesn’t say he is pleased that these things have happened, not overjoyed, but he is content. I can identify with that and find strength and comfort that even someone like Paul found hope and comfort."
Source: Mark Baggett, The Alabama Baptist, 11 Apr 1991, Vol. 156, No. 15, Birmingham, AL
B.S., Political Science, Honors Minor, University of Alabama, 1974
Master of Divinity, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1979
Master of Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1981
Doctor of Philosophy, Christian Philosophy, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 1989.
- E-mail written 2006-2013 to Culpepper Connections from James Daniel Culpepper (#54590), Orlando, Florida, e-mail address (Mar 2013).