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News@Norman Article - Rev. Fulker

posted Jun 21, 2012, 1:46 PM by Lebanon UMC   [ updated Sep 9, 2014, 9:38 AM ]

Rev. Fulker gives God the credit for helping him balance job, family, education

Graduation at any age is an accomplishment.  But when adults return to school, they often face challenges their younger counterparts don’t even fathom.  Challenges of family responsibilities, current job duties, and the stress and strain of studying is almost incomprehensible.
Gary Fulker was 48 years old when going back to school became part of his life.  Fourteen years later, he has graduated.
Although his career plans did not include becoming a preacher, he felt moved to do so.  He already had a job, a family, and enough on his plate.  But something was missing.
The late Rev. Gene Richardson “persistently encouraged me to become a certified lay speaker,” Fulker said.  His duties included filling in for Richardson at Bethel United Methodist Church or at another church.
“Strangers would always ask me what I did for a living,” Fulker said.  “Once they knew, they all said that I needed to be in the ministry.”
Fulker could have merely shrugged it off, as he said, but added that “the chase was on, and God was the one doing the chasing.”
Right in the middle of worship while singing “Here I Am, Lord,” Fulker says he felt “a warmth and peace blanket my heart and spirit like I had never ever experienced before in my life.”
Fulker said that was when his ministry journey began.
Fast-forward 14 years.  Yes, it has been a struggle, but at age 62 Fulker has earned a Master of Divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky where he had studied for six and a half years. Earlier, he spent two years studying at Pfeiffer University, all the while juggling his normal work and family obligations.  His course work encompassed 96 semester hours and is twice as long as traditional masters’ programs.
“I found the coursework to be much more challenging, in-depth and demanding than I initially envisioned,” he said, and then admitted his most difficult challenges were in Hebrew and Greek because those classes involved reviewing and translating scripture from its original context.
Fulker, a Westport resident, is entering his sixth year of appointment as pastor of Lebanon Before that, he served under appointment at Bethel UMC and was the Rock Springs Camp Meeting preacher.
“God made Himself at home (in me) at age 48.  My ministry journey began and I am still traveling that road today at age 62,” Fulker said.
Fulker’s graduate studies did not put his life on hold while he fulfilled God’s plan for him.  He continued with his full-time job as an insurance fraud investigator and continued to serve at Lebanon UMC as pastor.  He says there were times he wanted to take the “easy road and drop out.”
“God gave me the strength and stamina to soldier forward,” he said.  Even beyond his two jobs and his college studies, he also served 350 hours in volunteer work as Chaplaincy at Carolinas Medical Center Main in Charlotte on nights and weekends.
Fulker says his insurance employer has been extremely supportive and that his accumulated leave time helped him be on campus to complete his residency requirements and semesters of intensive study when necessary.
“My wife, De, and I sat down to plan our individual and family schedules,” he said.  And even when things looked like they were not ‘humanly possible,’ he knew they were ‘divinely possible.’ ”
The coursework was hard, but his wife and children realized the importance of what he was doing.  His sons have been inspired by his graduation and “have vowed to surpass him” in education.
“I am delighted to hear them express that level of educational excitement and commitment and desire to beat out ‘the old man,’” Fulker said.
“As an older adult, there is absolutely nothing that lies beyond the possibilities of achievement with God at the helm and as a partner.  God…pushes us when we need nudging…protects us from distracting influences and lifts us up.”
Juggling schedules for the Fulkers also included son Jared, who will graduate from North Lincoln next month, and 13-year-old Gavin, who will be an 8th grader at North Lincoln Middle in the fall.
But the Fulkers have still found time to visit the beach and mountains – places they love – for some much needed occasional R & R. Fulker says he also likes to play golf, kayak and read.   And Jared has earned the rank of Eagle Scout.  That honor will be awarded soon.
While Fulker’s studies will end and the family celebrates his graduation, they look forward to and will celebrate Jared’s graduation and starting college this fall.
“My wife says that she has gotten one of the boys of the family out of school.   She is looking to getting the remaining two through,” Fulker commented on his graduation.  Jared will attend Belmont Abbey College in the fall.
Moving forward, Fulker says this has been a “family affair” and that the family’s “sacrifice mirrors the biblical precept of servant leadership.”
“There were days and nights when my family preferred me to be with them, they recognized that there was a much greater need.  They graciously yielded to the responsibilities and obligations associated with pastoral-congregational ministry and service to God.”
Through it all, it has not been an easy journey.  Fulker says he is looking forward to some “fun” times with his wife and sons over the summer.
It is not an end, but a beginning.
“Being bi-vocational with a family is definitely challenging, not to mention undertaking graduate studies at the same time.  However, what I have experienced and learned is that God makes a way,” Fulker said.  “I have always placed my faith and trust in God.  I am excited to see what He has in mind for me next and I eagerly await his instructions.”