Associate Professor of Bible
A young Jerry Taylor spent a lot of time wrestling with the same question over and over, "Why me?"
An older Dr. Jerry Taylor finally got his answer.
"I now understand why," he said, sitting in his office in the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry.
Taylor is in his office only because he is researching and writing a book on 10 sermons he has delivered on the theme of prophetic preaching. Otherwise, he would be in a classroom or on a retreat or at his home with a group of students he mentors.
Taylor discovered his "why" through years of questioning - and listening. He wanted to know why he grew up in a home without his biological father. As a youngster in rural Tennessee, he would find a quiet space where he could be alone with his thoughts.
"I spent a lot of time in solitude," he said.
Gradually, the revelation came. He was to become what he is today - a teacher and a mentor to college students and even a father-figure to those who grew up with no father.
"I try to be extra sensitive to those who may have grown up experiencing father-absence in their lives," he said. "I participate in the healing of their souls in that area."
Helping others heal
Kenneth Dinkins, a youth and family ministry major from Toledo, has been on the receiving end of that nurturing. Part of his life was spent without his biological father. His mother remarried when Kenneth was 5, and his stepfather died when Kenneth was a sophomore in high school.
"Dr. Taylor has been sort of that father figure to me," he said.
Kenneth understands his professor's insight into understanding the "why" of his life without his father. Some, like Taylor, feel called to use that experience to help others in similar circumstances.
"You mentor someone, and hopefully they go on to be a resource to someone else," he said.
Like all healing, the process of coming to grips with growing up fatherless can be painful, and it requires patience.
That is especially true of the students who participate with Taylor in a retreat at a monastery in South Texas that requires four days of solitude.
In those four days, participants are totally alone and silent for 23 hours a day, with one hour set aside for "sharing of the fruits of solitude."
Learning peace from solitude
The retreat takes place at Labh Shomea House of Prayer near Sarita, Texas, on the famed King Ranch. Hermits live there year-round and invite others to participate in their way of life for spiritual renewal.
The name "Lebh Shomea" comes from Solomon's response to God in 1 Kings 3:9: "Give your servant lebh shomea (a listening heart) so as to be able to discern."
During the 23 hours of solitude, Taylor's students read two Henri Nouwen books, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life and The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence.
They have writing materials to record thoughts that come from the readings and from sitting and listening to God. Otherwise, they have no outside resources - no cell phone, no IPod, no Internet access, no library.
Taylor invites students on the retreat because he knows the value of solitude and the spiritual healing and development that can come only by sitting quietly and communing with God.
That's the path that led Taylor to where he is today - a man at peace enough with himself to nurture students who may be experiencing the same pains he suffered growing up.
"That's what I feel I'm here to do in addition to my teaching," Taylor said.
His formative years were spent without his biological father, but they weren't void of positive male role models. A stepfather came into his life when he was about 2 years old and remained a part of it until his death in 2002. Five uncles were actively involved in his life, also, and he knows how important their presence was.
One uncle, A.C. Draine, preached occasionally and baptized young Jerry in the Church of Christ the family attended. He also helped his nephew write his first sermon at age 14.
Meeting his biological father
Those years of healthy male relationships and time spent in solitude led Taylor to the point that he was able to meet his biological father for the first time in 1995, when Taylor was 34 and his father was 65.
The year was an eventful one for Taylor. In 1995, he earned his doctor of ministry degree at SMU and his wife, Pat, gave birth to their first child, Alisha.
"All that happened in the same year," Taylor said, shaking his head and chuckling at the thought.
The meeting took place in Flint, Michigan, where Taylor's father lived. It was a cordial meeting, and his father was gracious, Taylor recalled. The timing was providential. His father died the following year, and Taylor was grateful that the two had met.
"I just knew this was something I needed to do for my own internal healing," he said.
And that is where he hopes to lead students who also are growing up without fathers. He wants them to get to the same place he is today - a place of peace, with no animosity. Taylor is grateful that he had reached that point by 1995 and could have a productive, healing meeting with his father.
"I felt I could grant him forgiveness because there was no hostility," he said.
Now at peace, Taylor leads a full and happy life in Abilene. His wife, Pat, works at the north side branch of the Abilene Public Library and is completing her undergraduate degree in health and nutrition at ACU. She will graduate in 2010 and then plans to get a master's degree in library science.
Their oldest child, Alisha, 14, attends Abilene High School, and Jeremiah, 10, is a fifth-grader at Taylor Elementary School.
Teaching, preaching, mentoring and more
Taylor carries a full teaching load at ACU, while finding time to preach, deliver lectures at various conferences, and write. He has a wealth of personal experience to draw from. Born in Covington, Tenn., Taylor grew up in Millington, Tenn.
He was the youngest of three boys, a position he relished.
"I love my position in the family," he said. "You get to watch the others in order to know what to do."
Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible in 1984 from Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, near Dallas. He earned a master of divinity degree in 1988 from Southern Methodist University before adding a doctor of ministry degree from the university in 1995.
Before accepting a position at ACU six years ago, he preached a various places and had a ministry working with the poor in Atlanta. During that time, local college students joined him in forming an inner-city ministry team.
In Abilene, he and his family are members of Highland Church of Christ, where Taylor was a part-time staff member before stepping down to focus on his book.