Schenectady County

For retired educator, pastoral calling was a long time coming

Don’t suggest to Carl Shepard that he went down the wrong career path early in life. He’s happy abou
Pastor Carl Shepard of the United Methodist Church in Alplaus, shown here at last Wednesday’s senior luncheon, also sings with the Electric City Chorus and the New Messengers. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)
Pastor Carl Shepard of the United Methodist Church in Alplaus, shown here at last Wednesday’s senior luncheon, also sings with the Electric City Chorus and the New Messengers. (Bill Buell/Gazette reporter)

Don’t suggest to Carl Shepard that he went down the wrong career path early in life. He’s happy about where he’s been, he’s happy with where he is, and he has no regrets.

A local licensed pastor with the United Methodist Church in Alplaus, Shepard spent much of his life as a science teacher and an administrator at both the high school and college level before deciding to become a minister. He’d heard the call before, but felt comfortable putting it on the back burner for a while.

“I’m very happy to be a pastor as my third career,” said Shepard, a Glens Falls native who grew up in North Creek. “So I’m happy with the way things went. I don’t think I would have been a very good minister if I had started early. Over the years I’ve seen other people go straight to the ministry, and I’m not sure they’re worldly enough to relate to their congregation.”

At 65, Shepard is looking forward to retirement, but also showing no signs of slowing down. Along with his part-time pastoral duties in Alplaus, he’s a member of the Electric City Chorus and an off-shoot of that group, the New Messengers. He also volunteers with SALT, the Schoharie Area Long Term recovery group, and tries his best to find the time to golf at least twice a week.

Shepard grew up singing in his church choir, even though in elementary school he tried out for the glee club and was turned away. A graduate of Johnsburg High School, Shepard went to the University at Albany to get a degree in secondary science education, and then returned there to get his master’s. He taught science and math for 14 years at Newcomb Central School, where he also served as president of the teachers association and coached the tennis team. He left the Adirondacks to take a teaching post at SUNY-Cobleskill, where he worked for 20 years and became a full professor, chairman of the science department, director of institutional research and finally the assistant vice president for academics. During that time he also returned to UAlbany and got a second master’s in physics and eventually a doctorate.

Always close to church

While he didn’t become a minister during all that time, he did remain close to the Methodist Church.

“My mother was always involved when I was growing up, and I always sang in the church choir,” said Shepard. “I like to say ‘I’m Methodist from the womb.’ Other than a brief hiatus at the end of college, I’ve always been involved in some way, and I never looked at any denomination other than Methodist.”

Once he got settled in Cobleskill, Shepard became lay leader of the Methodist church there.

“The conference asked us to reorganize the structure of the church, and I was heavily involved in that,” said Shepard. “There were two of us there, and I felt like I was co-leading the church in my mind. I became a lay speaker and had led worship there a couple of times.”

As he started becoming more and more involved in the church, Shepard made the decision to become a minister. James Bowen of Guilderland, who also sings with Shepard in the New Messengers, was serving as pastor of Shepard’s church at the time.

“I got to know him pretty well, and I wasn’t surprised when he mentioned it to me,” said Bowen. “I told him to keep going. I thought it was an excellent idea.”

Shepard started attending classes at Andover Newton Theological School near Boston and took enough credits to qualify as a “local licensed pastor,” which means he can perform all the duties of an ordained pastor, but only within the particular congregation he is appointed too. Shepard began his pastoral career about 10 years ago at Methodist churches on Broadway in Schenectady and in Rotterdam, and then got the call to go to Alplaus.

“The district superintendent told me had a good church for me to retire from,” said Shepard, who along with his wife, Johanne, raised two boys. “The longer I’ve been here the more I agree. I’ve always lived in small towns and Alplaus has that small-town feel to it even though it’s in the Capital District. There are all kinds of things you can do here. I think it’s a great fit.”

So does longtime church member Mary Herrick of Alplaus.

“He was very friendly, and wanted to do so much for everyone, including our whole community as well as the church members,” said Herrick, who has attended the church for more than 50 years. “Carl’s interested in everything and has been working hard since he came here. He’s a very nice pastor.”

According to Shepard, the transition from school teacher to administrator to pastor has been a relatively smooth one.

“A lot of things seemed to transfer from my whole teaching background very well into the ministry,” said Shepard. “I had always thought about it, and while I kind of felt like it was going to happen eventually, I was kind of on the forever plan. I started going to Andover Newton part-time, but I haven’t finished and I don’t see myself ever getting ordained. I want to retire before that would happen and that’s OK. I’m happy doing what I’m doing.”

In harmony on bass

As for his singing, Shepard’s voice changed and the bad experience he had with the school glee club is a distant memory.

“In Cobleskill I sang with the community choir, and when the Cobleskill Chamber Singers wanted to do a special concert I would sing the bass for them,” said Shepard. “Doing that actually led to singing with Albany Pro Musica a couple of times.”

Shepard started singing with the Electric City Chorus in the 1990s, and while he still performs with them, he gets his biggest kick vocally with The New Messengers. While the four men — Shepard, Bowen, Mark Hodges of Waterford and Joe Smith of Clifton Park — do enjoy performing as a barbershop quartet, they have much more in their repertoire.

“Much of everything we do is gospel, but in order to enter a barbershop quartet competition you have to learn a few nonreligious songs,” said Shepard. “We were asked by the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk school to help them put on ‘The Music Man,’ so we were the barbershop quartet in that, and we were also asked by Park Playhouse to perform in their 25th anniversary celebration. Still, most of what we do is religious music.”

Shepard’s deep bass voice makes him a vital part of the group’s sound.

“His range is two octaves, and at the bottom end he hits notes I can’t even think about,” Bowen said of Shepard. “It’s very low, and he’s a real good singer.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

Categories: Life and Arts

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