Love after Loss

Our Neighbors

John, 88, and Gloria, 81, met in a spouse-loss counseling session at Warrenton’s Spiritual Care Ministries Center after losing their long-time spouses — 61 years for John and 55 years for Gloria — and have now been happily married for almost five years.

Author, Minister, Professor, and Theologian Finds Love After Loss With the Help of Spiritual Care Support Ministries

Rev. Dr. John Killinger’s career has taken him all over the world, but for 20 years he has called Warrenton home.

Photos by Luke Christopher

“I’m 88 now and still getting around pretty well after 20-odd years in Warrenton. My little dog Toby walks me a couple of times a day in our beautiful neighborhood off Gray’s Mill Road,” says Rev. Dr. John Killinger, a highly-respected preacher, scholar, lecturer, and prolific author whose career has taken him all over the country, and even overseas. He also has doctorates in both literature and theology.

Over the years, Killinger has published about 80 books, mostly nonfiction, covering topics such as Christian history, personal spirituality, world religions, preaching, worship, church politics, the Gospels as devotional literature, secular writers and artists, the nature of pastoral ministry, and the relationship between theology and contemporary culture. They include Hemingway and the Dead Gods in 1965, Beginning Prayer in 2012, and even a memoir about his time in Lynchburg titled The Other Preacher in Lynchburg: My Life Across Town from Jerry Falwell in 2009.

Killinger was born and raised in Germantown, Kentucky and his father worked in agriculture. “We had seven acres with a spring and a pond outside of town,” he said. “I feel connected with that living here in Warrenton.”

At age 17, Killinger headed to Baylor University with the intent of becoming a Baptist Minister. While attending Baylor, a small church in Kentucky asked him to be their pastor when he was only 18 years old. “I would ride the bus back and forth between college on the weekends for a year. I took a young woman from the church I had grown up in to play the piano,” Killinger said. That young woman would end up being his wife, Anne. Killinger was 19, Anne was 17.

Together, his and Anne’s careers and interests took them all over the country. After earning degrees from both Baylor University and the University of Kentucky, Killinger enrolled in Harvard Divinity School, “When I was there, Anne had the chance to go to the New England Conservatory of Music,” he said. “She distinguished herself as a pianist. She did some tours, as well.” After leaving Harvard, he and his wife both took jobs at Georgetown College in Kentucky, Killinger as an English professor and Anne as a piano teacher.

Two years later at Princeton University, Killinger became an associate to a famous Lutheran pastor from NY named Paul Scherer. While there, he received his doctorate in theology. In the following years, his career took him many places.

Killinger elaborates, “I accepted a job as Professor of Preaching, Worship, and Literature at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and lived in Nashville for fifteen years—a very pleasant experience. In 1980, I left Vanderbilt to become pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, VA, where I dueled relentlessly with the great Jerry Falwell, who all but owned that town. In 1986 I left that church to become pastor of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the oldest English-speaking church in the City of Angels, and from there I became a Distinguished Professor at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, teaching creative writing, literature, and religion, and retired from there in 1996 to move to Virginia to be close to our son.”

“When we moved to Warrenton, Anne and I looked at all of the churches because we had a background in religion, but we didn’t feel quite at home, so we didn’t join a church for several years,” Killinger said. Anne ended up being diagnosed with cancer and spent many years doing chemotherapy. “During that time, we met a pastor at the hospital who had a church on Blantyre Road.” After Anne passed away in 2013, he ended up joining the church – Bethel United Methodist Church. “People at this church love each other and are very kind and thoughtful. My counselor introduced me to Spiritual Care Support Ministries.”

Spiritual Care Support Ministries provides faith-based education, training, counseling, and spiritual support to those who are ill, dying, grieving, experiencing personal loss and those who journey with them. “I met my current wife Gloria there,” Killinger said. “At the time, she was living in Amissville and had recently lost her husband. We would drive up and look out over the Shenandoah Valley together. We got married and she moved in with me in Warrenton about five years ago.”

Killinger and Gloria still attend the Spiritual Care Support Ministries’ Spouse Loss support group. “I think of myself as a people person, having been a pastor, and written a lot of books, I have done a lot of counseling throughout the years,” Killinger said. “I feel that I have an opportunity to be there for a lot of people who may be suffering loss. I am always available to get to know someone and share my experiences with them.”

To this day, Killinger still keeps in touch with his students from all over the country, but especially from his time teaching at Vanderbilt University. “I have former students all over the country and some overseas I keep up with,” he said. “I enjoy being in touch with people. That really keeps me going.”

In his free time, you can find Dr. Killinger writing — at the moment, he has several novels and a children’s book in the works — enjoying the nature of the area, or spending time with Gloria, who loves decorating their home in Warrenton. Gloria has three daughters, five granddaughters, and three great-grandchildren, so they enjoy their big family.

Hannah Samlall
About Hannah Samlall 35 Articles
Hannah Samlall is a graduate of Virginia Tech. In 2017, she moved home from The Big Apple to partner with her sister to launch Waterloo Street, a digital marketing agency that offers social media management and content writing for small businesses and entrepreneurs. When she's not working, you can find her exploring outdoors, whipping up a delicious meal or snuggling with her kitten, Dunks.

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