DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — Throughout his life, the Rev. Max Copeland faced many challenges and, even, tragedies. Yet the man known simply as “Brother Max” never wavered in his faith, even when the church he came to lead burned down a few years after he arrived or his own health faltered.
“Faith has been easy for me,” Copeland said. “I know other people struggled in their faith. But I just find it easy to believe in God and his purpose.”
A simple man of faith and a storytelling preacher are easy ways to describe Copeland, who celebrates 55 years in the ministry this year. But for the Highland Lakes, Copeland and his wife, Glenna, mean much more. The two served, and continue to serve, the community that embraced them since their arrival in 1958 when Copeland came to preach at First Baptist Church of Marble Falls.
READ MORE about First Baptist Church’s 125th anniversary
“Brother Max has been such a cornerstone of this community,” said the Rev. Ross Chander, pastor at First Baptist Church of Marble Falls. “He means so much to us and the entire community.”
On Oct. 12, the church, located at 501 12th St., is hosting a reception at 5 p.m. to honor the Copelands for their commitment and service. The reception is part of the church’s 125th anniversary and also marks 55 years in the ministry for Copeland. Though he stepped down from the pulpit, Copeland remains the church’s pastor emeritus.
Copeland, 83, smiled at the thought of the reception.
“They have been honoring me and honoring me and saying goodbye to me so many times I’m embarrassed,” he said. “But I tell you what, I’m so glad they’re honoring my wife because she’s been by my side, and I wouldn’t be what I am without her.”
The two married in 1957, a year before the couple moved to Marble Falls.
Copeland first heard God’s call when he was 12 years old and living in West Texas.
“When I was 16, I surrendered publicly and started preaching,” he said.
Copeland began holding youth revivals. And, at 18 and a student at Baylor University, Copeland was driving to Roberts Baptist Church in Haskell County on weekends to preach. He led the church for more than four years before taking a call at a Baptist church in Briggs, located in northeast Burnet County.
In 1958, Copeland and Glenna accepted the call to First Baptist Church in Marble Falls. And there, the two set down roots.
The young couple faced a tough challenge early in their stay in Marble Falls. About 5 a.m. on a March morning in 1962, somebody saw smoke coming from the church in downtown Marble Falls. A fire spread through the building, burning it to the ground.
The Sunday after the fire, the congregation gathered and Copeland stood before them.
“I preached on the church still stands,” he said. “And away we went.”
After the fire, the congregation held services and Sunday school up and down Main Street wherever the members could find space.
“I’ve never seen any more Christian courage because we were depending on each other and depending on the Lord,” Copeland said.
Soon, the church found a few acres northeast of town. At the time, it was just a pasture with a trough.
In a year’s time, the congregation built a new church building at the current site.
“We just grew with the community. And I grew with the community,” Copeland said with a grin. “After all, I was just a country preacher — still am. Just don’t tell anybody.”
While he might not have held any political office or been one of the town’s financiers, Copeland’s influence moved through the community. But it wasn’t because of power that people typically think of when discussing influence.
Copeland’s ability came from another source: his love for God and people.
“God just gave me this incredible gift for loving people,” he said. “I just enjoy ministering to them, still do.”
From his early days in Marble Falls, Copeland became a fixture at youth sporting events. He wanted to encourage and support the youth. Even today, if he can make the games, people often see Copeland, complete with his red suspenders and red socks, sitting in the stands. For decades, students could just look up and see him there.
Cord Woerner, who grew up in Marble Falls and returned to coach for several years, remembered Copeland’s presence meant something not just for the student-athletes.
“It’s not just an incredibly positive thing for the youth, but it was such a positive thing for the coaches, parents and grandparents to see him there,” Woerner said. “And the thing is, he supported everybody. When he wasn’t at a game or at church, he was helping somebody or at the hospital staying with somebody.”
The support didn’t waver even when things became difficult.
“Even when things and people didn’t work out the way you hoped or should, he was one guy you knew would never give up on you,” Woerner said.
Even after eight decades and more than 50 years in the ministry, Copeland still lives each day basking in God’s love. Most days during the fall and spring months, people can find him greeting visitors to Sweet Berry Farm, which his son Dan Copeland and wife Gretchen own. People smile and call him Brother Max, even those who come from out of town to either pick strawberries or find the perfect pumpkin.
Some of the people know him from years past. They bring their children or grandchildren to the farm and recall times Copeland helped them, baptized them or even married them.
“Ministry is so special because you see lives change, you feel that love of the people, and you give that love back,” Copeland said. “To see lives changed and have people walk up to you, even years later, and say, ‘I haven’t seen you in a long time and thanks so much for what you did,’ it really means so much to me. They talk about what I’ve done for the community, but I talk about what the community has done for me and my family. It’s been a real blessing for me and my family.”
But many in the community feel Brother Max and Glenna have truly been a blessing to the community.