- The Rev. Wallace A. Stark’s 1,300 or so sermons are being used as grist for a podcast by his son.
- GW Stark didn’t want his father’s lifetime of work to fade away while stored in a library somewhere.
- Debuting in September, the Son of a Preacher Podcast has been heard in the U.S., Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Hungary.
Decades of sermons by a United Methodist pastor are attaining new relevance in the 21st century, thanks to the preacher’s son, who refashions his dad’s lessons as podcasts.
GW Stark, son of the late Rev. Wallace A. Stark, started the Son of a Preacher Podcast in September.
The younger Stark was inspired by a walk he took through the National Archives in Washington.
“As I'm walking by these paper lawyer boxes, I’m walking by (the papers of anthropologist) Margaret Mead, and that memory has stayed with me,” he said.
If he donated the 1,300 or so sermons from the 1950s through the 1970s his father left behind to an archive, GW Stark feared that they’d disappear in such a storage building.
The Son of a Preacher podcast posted its first episode Sept. 5. Listenership is still modest, but it has reached the U.S., Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Hungary. Episodes are about 12 minutes and feature Stark — in his made-for-radio, raspy voice — summarizing one of his father’s sermons along with some commentary to update it.
“I appreciate the way he brings that central message to relevance for today,” said the Rev. Bill Poland, director of new communities of faith and connectional ministries in the Iowa Conference, where the Rev. Stark spent most of his career heading up moderately sized churches. “He doesn't just redo what his dad does.
“The thing for me that is the most touching about it is the way in which for GW, it puts him in touch and connects with his dad and his dad's ministry. I really appreciate that.”
In some ways, the world hasn’t changed much from the time of his father’s ministry, Stark said.
“The Middle East is still a problem, right?” he said. “Russia is still a problem. … Drugs are still a problem. It was a problem then and it's a problem now. Gambling and alcohol are still problems.”
He looks for new correlations when studying the sermons, and offers his take on the podcast instead of reading sermons in their entirety.
GW Stark spent much of his career in the military, and afterward was a defense contractor in Washington. About a decade ago, he and his wife moved from the St. Louis suburbs to Franklin, south of Nashville, to get in place for retirement. In Tennessee, he has worked in the insurance industry.
The Rev. Wallace A. Stark was a military chaplain during World War II, island-hopping with the 25th Infantry Division in the Pacific Theater.
“After he got out of seminary and came back (to Iowa), he had churches,” GW Stark remembered.
The Rev. Stark’s early sermons reflected his Southern Baptist upbringing, hitting hard on issues such as gambling and drinking, his son said.
“As he went on … he would not necessarily try to bring hellfire and brimstone down every Sunday morning,” GW Stark said.
The Rev. Stark favored the four Gospels and Acts most often in his sermons.
“He loved (the Apostle) Paul,” GW Stark said. “(There was) a lot of emphasis on the loving God and the path to salvation type thing as opposed to the path to hell.”
Stark didn’t follow his father into the ministry.
“I don't think people understand how hard it is to be a preacher,” he said. “If the old ladies’ meeting ran late, well, there he was. … If the church doors were open, he or my mom needed to be there.”
Stark’s father passed away in 1996, and his mother in 2009. His father’s sermons were collected in his personal archive.
“It finally dawned on me that a podcast might be worthwhile,” he said. “Thankfully, he typed his sermons, so they're legible.”
The original sermons use gender-exclusive language, which dates them, Poland said. But most people can make allowances for that because they reflect the time in which they were written and delivered, he added.
“That's not a major obstacle for me,” Poland said. “I've shared (the podcast) with my own son, also a pastor, and he's listened to a few of them as well.”
Although GW Stark is not a theologian, he’s certainly spent a lot of time in Methodist churches. After growing up in his dad’s churches, he and his wife have occasionally attended Franklin First United Methodist and Brentwood United Methodist Church since their move to Middle Tennessee.
“I'm just a guy whose dad was a theologian,” he said. “If somebody really wants to come in and argue points of the Bible with me, I think I would be smart to point to someone else for him to argue with.”
What he has tried to do in the podcast is to stay “very true to what (his father) put out there in the public.”
The podcast puts GW Stark in communication with his father in one of the only ways he has left.
“My real intent was to make it so that his life work wasn't just lost,” he said. “Obviously it is making me closer to him than I was probably at one time. But my intent was that his life work not get lost in the wayside.”
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