Sheppard shows shades of his dad as pastor
PASTOR OF THE YEAR
Like father, like son
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
There was no escaping the path that led Donald Sheppard to the pulpit almost 40 years ago, although it took several years before he realized it.
He grew up shadowing his father, who pastored churches in their hometown Quincy, as well as Midway and Tallahassee. Yet the convincing moment that he’d become a preacher didn’t happen until he was in college in Ohio working on a degree in art.
He figured when that day came he’d get a dramatic sign such as having to go through some adversity.
Quite the contrary. It was as simple as a few simple signs, said Sheppard, 55.
“God didn’t have to break me up for me to accept,” Sheppard said. “I just started to see a pull toward the ministry in everything. It was in the Sunday school lesson, in the sermon, the Bible study and my personal study time.”
So more than three decades later, he finds himself as pastor of Watson Temple Church of God in Christ. His congregational members who have been a part of the church during E.L. Sheppard’s era say he hasn’t digressed from the fundamental style of preaching that his father did.
His impact on thousands over the years was recently rewarded with the Capital Outlook’s Pastor of the Year honor for 2017.
Sheppard’s work goes far beyond the pulpit, said deacon Ronald Watson, adding that there’s never an issue that any of his congregants face that Sheppard hasn’t tried to resolve.
“He is very accessible,” Watson said. “He even gives out his personal number. He is almost too accessible. He has always been the hand to assist people.”
He does all that while holding duties as an art teacher at Montford Elementary School as his fulltime job. At the same time, he keeps his church relevant with ideas that his members say proves his skills as a visionary.
Over the years, Sheppard has added an extension to the church to create space for a fellowship hall and classrooms at the church located in Frenchtown. His faith hasn’t waned in any of those undertakings, said church member Delaitre Hollinger.
“Despite the changing times, he has held true to the values that he was taught,” Hollinger said. “Holding onto God’s unchanging hand, as the saying says, has kept him. It has given him the desire and courage to pastor.
“He is not stale, he is not stagnant. He continues to try and think about new programs; new ministries that he can get people involved to stay current. He has that ability to adapt to the changing times while holding onto the values that have strengthened him all these years.”
Sheppard grew up as one of six children with him and his twin brother, Elliott, taking the lead in helping their father around the churches where he was pastor. Following his graduation from James Shanks High School in 1980, he took off to Ohio to attend Columbus College of Art and Design.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in art education, following that with the start of a teaching career at Griffin Middle School. During the 15 years that his stint at Griffin lasted, he earned a doctorate degree from FSU in 2013.
All the time, he developed a passion to be like his father.
“You kind of get exposed to everything in the church so I did it,” said Sheppard, who preached his first sermon in 1983 at the same church that his father started in Quincy. “I had a good experience growing up as a pastor’s kid. My siblings did too. We loved to follow daddy and help him out.”
In the church wasn’t the only way that Sheppard emulated his father. Like his father, he makes time for his wife, Sarah, and their daughter.
“It is a juggle,” he said. “You have to have an understanding wife (and) the church because the people are so good. We work as a team and sometimes they save me from a lot of the headaches.
“Those little victories become the fuel to go on. You use that little fuel until that’s gone, then God gives you another tank.”