After 50 years in the ministry – 18 in Granbury, Pastor Charles Somervill is retiring at First Presbyterian Church.
Known for his humor and down-to-earth sermons, Somervill had a variety of mishaps and funny moments during his career.
“There’s one really funny thing that happened during the children’s sermon one Sunday morning,” Somervill recalled. “I was asking them about Jesus.
“‘Do you know Jesus?’ I asked. And one little boy said, ‘Yes, I know Jesus. I do know Jesus. We go there for birthday parties at Chuck E. Jesus!’” The young man apparently was referring to the pizza parlor and game room, Chuck E. Cheese’s.
Affectionately called “Charles” by his congregants, he once thanked the ladies for all the beautiful Pomeranians decorating the church at Christmas time. Laughing, he explained, “I meant to say poinsettias.”
Another announcement caught the congregation off-guard. “Dallas Callaway is not doing well, and needs our prayers,” Somervill announced one Sunday. But many in the congregation thought he said the Dallas Cowboys aren’t doing well, and need our prayers. “That got a laugh,” he recalled. “Dallas Callaway is better, but I don’t know if we can say that about the Cowboys.”
Somervill has a routine to greet new members with a small gift – usually a pen. “This pen can write in cursive,” he will announce. “This pen can spell Presbyterian. This pen can write numbers on checks…”
Once while greeting visitors, he tripped and fell on a lady in the pew. “I think I’ve fallen for you,” the embarrassed pastor joked while picking himself up.
THINK I’LL BE A PASTOR
Somervill was 10 years old when he first thought about becoming a pastor.
“I was on a boat to England with a boys choir when I starting thinking about becoming a pastor. It just seemed like it would be a good thing,” he said.
The boys choir included about 30 members and was actually a paid job for young Somervill.
“We had regular practice dates, travelled for some performances and appeared on TV. In England we sang with the Canterbury Cathedral Boys Choir.”
Choir members were paid $1 a week. “That was a pretty big deal. At the time, you could go to a movie for about 12 cents,” Somervill said.
“The first terrible moment in my life was when my voice changed,” Somervill said of his exit from the choir.
Somervill was ordained into the ministry in June 1962, at a church in Shawneetown, Ill.
SERVING VARIOUS CONGREGATIONS
After two years in Illinois, Somervill relocated to Clovis, N.M., for new church development.
“We had a congregation full of captains and lieutenants from Clovis AFB. We had a good-looking congregation with many young families. The average age was 27,” Somervill said.
“At the time, it was said that I couldn’t attract older people to the church,” he sighed with a smile.
“The church met at a funeral parlor for three years because we didn’t have the money to build.”
Then someone stepped up.
“There was an old man who lived on top of the hill. Everyone said he had money,” Somervill said. “One day the old man told me to go ahead and build the church. So we did, and he paid for it. He also paid for the education center.”
Somervill next served at churches in Lubbock and Denton, before going back to school to get his Ph.d.
“I wanted to teach at the seminary. That was my dream.”
Somervill also served congregations in Amarillo and New Orleans.
“My big moment came when Princeton Seminary called and said they could bring me in to teach. But, I would be starting at entry level pay, and I was told it was no longer the warm, friendly place I remembered … so, I declined,” he said.
TEACHING AND PREACHING
Somervill was at a church in Post, and teaching at Texas Tech, when he was called to Granbury.
First Presbyterian of Granbury had 167 members when Somervill arrived. “Back then, I would drive to Ranger College to teach every Monday – for extra money,” Somervill recalled.
Later, he taught at Tarleton and for the past 12 years has been teaching business and professional speaking classes at TCU.
During his time in Granbury, First Presbyterian Church peaked with 350 members. “We have about 348 this year,” he noted.
I DO, I DO
Somervill has presided over some memorable weddings during his time as a preacher.
“There was the wedding with all the decorations in hot pink and zebra print. They even had a hot pink and zebra stole for me to wear over my robe,” Somervill said with a grin.
One time, he married a couple in their boat on Lake Granbury. As soon as the ceremony ended, it poured rain and everyone got soaked, he recalled.
Another time, Somervill said he presided over the wedding of two FBI agents at the Inn at Lake Granbury. “Everyone at the wedding was in dark suits and had sunglasses. It was different,” he commented.
NO TIME TO SLOW DOWN
Retirement is bittersweet for the longtime pastor. “I’m feeling a little melancholy. I have mixed feelings. Maybe I’ll write a mystery novel about Granbury,” he said with a sparkle in his eye.
Somervill wrote four books in the 1980s and recently has been writing prayer books.
At 75 years of age, the pastor still plays racquetball three times a week.
This month he plans a trip to Ruidoso, N.M. “I’m going to take snow-skiing lessons. I used to waterski, but I’ve never tried snow skiing.”
Sunday was the last day for Somervill at the First Presbyterian Church of Granbury. The congregation is planning a farewell dinner and roast later this month.
“I’m happy for him,” church member Dutch Wilkinson said of Somervill’s retirement.
“It won’t be that much different. He’ll still go fishing, still be reading books, going to the movies, playing racquetball and still be teaching at TCU.
“Only difference is, he won’t be preaching, and he won’t be drawing a paycheck,” Wilkinson said with a chuckle.
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