On a flight to London not long ago I was thinking almost out loud about Dr. Steven Pulliam and his wife Allison. I had assigned myself to write a profile of Steve. I realized he is apparent simplicity at times, complex and deep at others. Allison knows, and yet she doesn’t. I ask her, how does he do all that he does? How does he read prolifically, work prodigiously, pray whole heartedly, care so deeply, laugh so fully, and yet be so devoted to his family and his church and his God. One cannot even imagine how it all happens in a day.
Allison says he is amazing. He has great boundaries and an instinctive balance in his life. He is blessed. Those around him are blessed because of it all. His humor is as instinctive and as present as his love of his family is entrenched in his very being. And yet he pushes through difficult times, constantly in the Word, lover of his kids, a favorite TV show, an old movie, a Cardinal baseball game, family meals, hiking, and dogs. Music is a big part of his life, as well as Allison’s and the kids. (However, I have heard he cannot sing a note. I will assume that is true because I haven’t risked actually hearing him sing. ) He and Allison share many of the same interests but at the same time they can be dynamic opposites.
When Allison and Steve became engaged her dad asked him how he was going to provide. Steve’s answer: God is going to provide. Allison thought he was going to get kicked out of the boat they were all in on the lake. But it didn’t happen. It was right and true.
Allison says Steve trusts in a way she does not know how. He does it every day, applying it humbly. Whether he tries to walk the example or not, he just does it. It just happens. Awhile back, when Allison was hospitalized with seizures Steve lovingly stepped into her organizational role, protective, making sure she still had her dignity. He is the love of her life.
He is constantly in a book about the Word of God. He will read and veg out in front of TV with the kids. He will play games with the family. There are very few days the family doesn’t have at least one meal together, forever that has been breakfast.
Fellow pastor Carl Palmer says there are times when he and Steve get together and turn into fourteen year old boys. They play off of each other; remember scenes and lines from old sometimes-obscure movies. There are discussions that go on and on until people will tell them to stop. But again, he can make you feel better when you are down, even pushing until he succeeds. I know that to be true. Once he showed up at a hospital emergency room years ago when a family member of ours was going through a serious health crisis. His visit was a surprise, his presence more than welcome. By the time he was through my husband and I had changed from anxiety to laughter, from doubt to patient confidence in the future.
Carl also says he has never seen Steve frazzled or irritated. Steve has an incredible rapport with the staff, in part Carl suspects, because Steve has been at Central so long. When Steve started at Central Carl quips, the Dead Sea wasn’t even sick. But the rapport is also because of who Steve is. He cares. He has a tremendous recall of people and history. His preaching is not really autobiographical as so many preachers’ sermons are, but a real teaching of the word of God.
Steve draws from a variety of disciplines–yes, the scriptures, but also from writers like C.S.Lewis, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Henri Nouwen, Dr. Ellsworth Kalas, N.T. Wright, John Wesley, Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard. He wants, as he once told me, to have his audience remember at least one lesson, one good point of eternal significance, one meaningful scripture from his sermon, and then he will believe he has achieved some success.
Where did this man we know as Steven Pulliam come from and how did he get here at Central United Methodist Church? I have a brief sketch of his youth and “resume.” Steven Kayne Pulliam was born in Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Walnut Ridge, AR on January 7, 1971. The hospital stopped delivering babies not long after Steve was born. “We’re done” the hospital must have said. No one is really sure if it was because of Steve or in spite of him. The doctor let Steve’s mom have control of the gas. He must have had plans because he said, “If we don’t let her control the gas, we might be here all weekend.” Perhaps that early exposure to laughing gas is why Steve has such a great sense of humor?
For a while Steve’s dad was a dentist with the VA in Dallas. Then he bought his own practice in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. Steve grew up there. The family was looking for a church. Herschel McClurkin paid the Pulliam family a visit inviting them to First United Methodist Church in Walnut Ridge. The Pulliam family visited and that became their home church. Later Reverend Tony Holifield became pastor there. His influence was profound then and would be in the future.
When Tony and Sarah Holifield moved to Walnut Ridge they brought along with them their son Rob who was the same age as Steve. Rob (now a pastor at FUMC, Texarkana) and Steve and another boy Jay Clark (now a pastor at Pulaski Heights UMC in Little Rock) became best friends–all starting in the 5th grade. Steve was in Tony’s confirmation class. He says he knew Steve very well. Judging from some of the stories I heard he surely did.
The Holifields and the Pulliam families became good friends and stayed that way over the years. The stories Tony tells about Steve and Rob are fun. One day while Tony was in his office he heard a noise across the hall in the chapel. He walked in and found Rob and Steve dressed in choir robes. They were preaching to one another. Were they practicing for the future?
Other times their escapades were a little more “unfavorable.” There was a time when the boys went to church on Sunday and they would sit on the back row where Tony couldn’t really see them. During early prayer time they would sneak out the back door, hop over to the hall next door, and watch wrestling on TV. One Sunday Tony caught them and Sunday wrestling came to an end.
By the time of the wrestling story Tony was getting warmed up telling his stories to me. But I will reveal only one more. Steve has actually admitted in a sermon that he and Rob climbed on the roof of a building one snowy day and began throwing snowballs at passing cars. When one elderly lady’s car got hit she found Tony at the parsonage and reported them. Tony drove up and Rob threw a perfect strike right in the middle of Tony’s windshield. Then Rob said with a frightened look on his face, “Uh oh! That was my dad’s car!” Just like Sunday wrestling there were no more snowball attacks either.
Rob and Steve eventually went to Asbury College in Kentucky together, although Steve finished up at the University of Arkansas with a degree in political science. It was there he felt the call. When he left the U of A he was on staff as an intern with the Wesley Foundation. Then he went to Asbury seminary.
After seminary Steve was assigned to Bay United Methodist Church in Bay, Arkansas, near Jonesboro. Later, when an opening occurred at Central United Methodist Church, once again Rev. Tony Holifield, now senior pastor at Central, had a profound effect on Steve’s life. Tony asked Steve to come. The connections are a part of a continuing life pattern with Steve and Tony. When Steve was being ordained he told Tony that Tony had baptized, confirmed, and ordained him. That God continually brought them together was no accident.
While at the U of A Steve met Allison in one of the campus ministry settings. They were married on May 21, 1994. They later headed to seminary. During that period Steve worked as a hospice chaplain in Richmond, Kentucky. He has said it was a great experience in pastoral care, putting life in perspective while helping people in their last stages of life.
It is no coincidence that Steve draws from great men of God. One such man, Eugene Peterson, wrote “The Message” translation of the Bible. Steve has used the phrase of wanting to be a “subversive” pastor, taken from the writings of Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor.
The essence of being a “pastor” , Peterson writes, [requires] [the pastor to be]… “subversive, ” The Contemplative Pastor, pgs. 15-16.
To be subversive the Pastor is called to a quietness of soul in Christ. It isn’t “subversive” as the world is, but to:
- Challenge the status quo of this world.
- Show another world is livable and not just imaginary…
I see these things in Steve.
There is one last voice we ought to hear. Dr. Jan Davis, Senior Pastor at Central United Methodist Church can only give her first impression of Steve, having worked with him only one week before she sent him off on vacation. Her impressions? Steve Pulliam has a heart of gold and a heart for Christ. He is the real thing, a man of authentic, deep faith, who keeps his commitment to our church. He is loyal to Jan and to Central. He asks: “How can I serve God?” He shoulders a heavy load and does not complain. His new title? Executive Pastor, a CEO position of a great organization.
This is all part of who Steven K. Pulliam is, husband, father, pastor, friend, scholar, and man of God. Central United Methodist Church is blessed beyond measure that he is here. I am blessed beyond measure to know him.
Central United Methodist Church