Posted Online: March 07, 2014, 5:40 am

Shot down three times; lifted up by holy trinity

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By Leon Lagerstam,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert /
The Rev Stephen Lovelady takes a minute for a portrait on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Rev. Lovelady is retiring from First Baptist Church in Silvis, and will be honored March 22-23. He's been at the church since 1987.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert /
The Rev Stephen Lovelady takes a minute for a portrait on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. Rev. Lovelady is retiring from First Baptist Church in Silvis, and will be honored March 22-23. He's been at the church since 1987.
SILVIS -- He got shot down three times on Marine Corps helicopter missions in Vietnam, but his church mission kept him flying high after that.

The Rev. Stephen Lovelady, 64, recently retired from First Baptist Church in Silvis after 26 years as pastor.

"By God's grace, I have been able to stay on this bucking bronco and transfer my passion for the Bible, and God, and teach and share everything I have," he said.

He also was able to hand the reins to his son, the Rev. Ben Lovelady, who was appointed to his father's old post in early February.

Church members will honor the elder Rev. Lovelady on Saturday and Sunday, March 22 and 23, with a retirement celebration from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, a retirement worship service at 10:40 a.m. Sunday, followed by a church potluck at 12:30 p.m., all at the church, 1101 10th Ave.

"I'm not sure what they have planned," Rev. Stephen Lovelady said. "They're not telling me anything about it."

When he came to the church in 1987, "my goal was to get to 14 years," to match the church's two previous pastors, who each lasted that many years, he said.

"God's about doubled that," he said. "I hope to live a couple more years to get to that point."

Although retired from a full-time position, Rev. Lovelady plans to lead a service every other Sunday night.

He turns 65 in September, and hoped to stay on full-time until then, but said health reasons prevented it. Rev. Lovelady has a rare form of leukemia, that, together with chemotherapy, forced the issue.

He also has had prostate cancer and two heart attacks, traced back to Agent Orange, and had shoulder replacement surgery and many other operations, dating back to his Vietnam days.

"I joined the Marine Corps in 1967, and went to Vietnam in 1969," Rev. Lovelady said. "I flew in 142 helicopter missions and was shot down three times, the last of which I was seriously injured."

He was awarded seven air medals before leaving the Marine Corps in 1971 and turning to the ministry.

"I found God waiting for me on the 50-yard line to put me into the game and talk to the coach," he said. "I like to use sports and war metaphors a lot."

Being a pastor "is the highest calling of them all," Rev. Lovelady said. "And to spend 26 years in the same pastor-friendly church is amazing. I've had an excellent board of directors, who, together with Ben, fills me with the greatest confidence the church will continue going into the same glorious direction."

"We're grateful God has used my father to build such an awesome church," Rev. Ben Lovelady said.

Father and son share a similar "conversational" preaching tone, and when asked separately for a favorite Bible figure, each answered "Moses."

"It's been a pleasure to work with my dad for the last 12 years," Rev. Ben Lovelady said. "Yet, he's given me a lot of space to develop my own style."

Rev. Stephen Lovelady said he's been careful over the years to ensure parishioners realized no type of nepotism was involved in his son's appointment.

"I've always been impressed by my dad's humility," Rev. Ben Lovelady said. "And he's always been a student of the word."

Rev. Stephen Lovelady's also been a teacher, as well as a student. He taught Moody Bible classes for many years, and taught in many countries, including Africa, Russia, Jamaica, Myanmar and the Philippines.

"Each trip cost the congregation about $3,000, so to find a church so willing to do that was quite a blessing," he said.

"But I don't think my health's going to allow me to teach any longer, either," he said.

Yet, Rev. Lovelady maintains a positive attitude about his life and faith.

"I'm as grateful as the day is long," he said. "God has been so merciful, and has left a great track record of faithfulness."

The Rev. Stephen Lovelady
Address: Silvis.
Birth date: Sept. 18, 1949.
Education: John F. Kennedy High School, Taylor, Mich.; Bachelor of Arts, Grand Rapids, Mich., Baptist College; master's degree in Old Testament and Semitic Languages from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; half completed a doctorate in Old Testament Literature at Marquette Graduate School, Milwaukee, Wis.; ordained at Grandville Baptist Church, Grandville, Mich., in 1976.
Family: Wife, Harriet Lovelady; four children; eight grandchildren.
Hometown: Lincoln Park, Mich.
Experience: Served as pastor at First Baptist Church, Deerfield, from 1981 to 1987; called to First Baptist in Silvis in 1987.
Favorite Scripture: Joel 2: 13-14.
I wish I knew how to: Play the acoustic guitar perfectly.

The Rev. Ben Lovelady
Address: Silvis.
Birth date: March 15, 1979.
Education: Baptist Bible College, Clark Summit, Pa. (near Scranton, Pa); Master's of Theology degree, Moody Theological Seminary.
Hometown: Deerfield, Ill.
Family: Wife, three sons, and another on the way.
Favorite Scripture: Hebrews 11:6.
Hobbies: Woodworking, hiking.
I wish I knew how to: Play the piano.