ST. PETERSBURG — Retired after a 28-year career in the Navy, Gary Chapin knows a thing or two about being disciplined.
But it took a special program to get him to read the Bible all the way through — each chapter, psalm and proverb — within a year. His guide was The Grand Sweep: 365 Days from Genesis Through Revelation, a book that has sold more than 100,000 copies.
"It's a very organized program and very interesting, and it caused myself and my wife to pause during the day and reflect, and at the same time, accomplish something we've never done," Chapin said.
Now the retired master chief petty officer is looking forward to meeting the preacher who designed the course that got him and his wife, Nancy, to commit to a Bible-reading and devotion regimen most nights after supper.
The Rev. J. Ellsworth Kalas, the renowned Methodist preacher who developed the curriculum, is coming to St. Petersburg to celebrate the accomplishment of the Chapins and others who have completed the program at Allendale United Methodist Church.
For the thousands who have participated in the program, it has been a mixed experience, with some confessing that they've taken two years to get through the Bible, Kalas said.
But, he added, "An astonishing number have finished it.''
Kalas, who was appointed to his first church in 1950, read the entire Bible for the first time at 11 years old. He had been challenged to do so by a Presbyterian evangelist who learned of his desire to become a preacher. Kalas said the evangelist gave him a formula for reading the Bible in a year: three chapters each day and five on Sundays.
"I kept doing it year after year," said the prolific author, who continues to read the Bible through every two or three years.
His curriculum does not skip any part of the Bible. It's one of his pet peeves about some programs, he said. After all, he added, one doesn't skip around a novel.
"People don't get the plot" if they do, he said.
Kalas will also be in town to celebrate the 88th anniversary of Allendale United Methodist. The church was started in 1924 by Christ United Methodist Church, a historic congregation next to City Hall in downtown St. Petersburg. The two churches will have a joint celebration on May 6 at Allendale.
"This is the first joint service in celebration of those founding experiences," the Rev. Robin Hager of Christ United Methodist said.
"Folks here are very proud of the history of starting new congregations, and so when I took it to our leadership, they were very excited to be part of that sort of celebration."
For both congregations, there's also the excitement associated with the visit of a prominent preacher.
The Rev. Ronald Jones of Allendale met Kalas briefly at a seminar in Orlando. "He's a well-learned man, a highly respected man of God and of faith, and despite his intellect, he has a way of communicating on every level," Jones said.
Hager described Kalas as "a gracious, gentle, yet powerful leader."
"He's someone who, if I were to describe my experience, it was like sitting at the seat of a sage, listening to someone who has traveled the journey and continues to travel the journey and is more than willing to share his wisdom and insights," she said.
In a telephone interview, Kalas, recently retired as president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., responded candidly to a question about the decline of mainline churches.
"I think that probably every mainline church needs to ask itself why did we come into existence in the first place," he said.
"The issue is not to worry about being clever or 'with it,' but to meet and fulfill their calling before God. In the case of my own denomination, we've lost track of why we came into existence and we're just desperate to come up with something to meet the needs of the times. That's honorable as a desire, but it can be time-bound," he said, adding that the culture of the day is to manufacture personalities, organizations and excitement.
The church, he said, "needs to be a little above that and not be the latest thing on the block."
Tom Gregory, who led Allendale's "Grand Sweep" class, explained how the preacher's St. Petersburg visit came to be. "About halfway through the class, somebody in the class said, 'Tom, have you ever met Dr. Kalas?' "
He hadn't, so Gregory said he simply wrote Kalas a letter inviting him to Allendale.
"It will be a pleasure to meet him,'' Chapin said, "and, of course, his reputation with the Methodist church is second to none.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.