Despite what those numbers say, the Cleveland couple recently celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary, hitting another milestone of their commitment to each other and their faith.
Littrell, a United Methodist Church parish pastor of 50 years who retired in 2006, said he believes the secret to their success is a willingness to work through their problems, even when doing so is not easy.
“When my wife and I were married, if something was broken, we fixed it,” Littrell said.
Both Kentucky natives, the couple married young. He was 18, and she was 16. Chloe was a pastor’s daughter, and they met at her church in Central City, Ky., where Littrell was also serving as a youth preacher. After the wedding, the couple went into ministry together, as they have been for their entire married life.
“Sometimes things were for better and for worse,” Littrell said, adding that their vows to each other were more important than any disagreements.
As a pastor, Littrell counseled many couples on marriage issues. Though he has seen many broken marriages, he calls divorce “regrettable.” He believes divorce is “a sin” but said that it, like all sins, can be forgiven.
“I have never encouraged or recommended divorce to any couple,” Littrell said. “I appeal to mercy and forgiveness.”
He said he has not encountered a situation that couldn’t be improved with those two things.
When Littrell speaks of his faith, he does so with what he learned while earning three college degrees. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Evangel College and his master’s at Missouri State University, studying theology and history for both. He later earned a doctorate degree in historical theology from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
The couple’s passion for sharing their faith has taken them both outside the classroom and the country. Still, they appreciate where they currently live.
“My wife and I have traveled in eight foreign countries,” Littrell said. “But Cleveland is the best place we have ever known.”
Their most recent trip overseas was to the Mary Diana Samuel Home, an orphanage in Tiruvallur, India, in March 2011. They helped provide Bible-based activities for the children in an event Littrell said was similar to a vacation Bible school event in an American church.
Littrell said a minister’s life is not always easy, but he and Chloe have learned to rely on faith over time.
“We’ve lived a simple lifestyle always thankful for the Lord’s provision,” Littrell said. “There were times we didn’t live in our own home. One year, financial support was so low that we didn’t have an automobile. But we trusted God to provide our need, and he did.”
Long before Littrell met his lifelong ministry partner, he knew he would be in ministry.
”I knew from the time I was 5 years old,” Littrell said. “That’s unusual — I know that. There was an inner desire to preach.”
He said his maternal grandmother, “an old-fashioned sanctified Methodist,” told him that God had told her he would be a preacher someday. He thinks his classmates and teachers in school must have noticed his knack for preaching too, because he was often cast as the minister in school plays.
But life was not always easy for him, even with the peace of mind of knowing how he wanted to spend his adult years when he was still a child.
“I was reared an orphan boy from the time I was 10 years old,” Littrell said. “So it’s easy for me to relate to the poor, disenfranchised and marginalized in society.”
He became passionate about helping others, and his future wife also shared that passion.
“When my wife and I married, we entered into ministry immediately,” Littrell said.
Both husband and wife have each pastored churches over the years. Terril pastored 10 churches over a span of 50 years, and Chloe pastored three churches in over 10 years.
They ministered as many social changes happened throughout the years in the United States, including the Civil Rights movement and other changes regarding feminism and abortion. They were trying to get churches to collaborate on community service that they hoped would meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people.
Littrell said he received criticism for focusing on helping the poor instead of just preaching. But he argued that he was practicing what he preached, he said.
“So often many of the affluent in the church do not see the poor nor hear the cry of the needy because they have not felt their pain,” Littrell said.
In this election year, he believes that communities should not rely on their governments to help the poor among them. It is the responsibility of churches, he said. He stressed that his faith takes precedence over any political party.
“God calls us to be our brother’s keeper,” Littrell said. “Jesus clearly tells us to love our neighbor and to be concerned about the poor and needy.”
Since he has retired, Littrell has been able to devote more of his time to community service.
“Presently, my wife and I are involved in ministry with 10 different organizations,” Littrell said. “I serve on the board of directors of five groups.”
When it comes to the things he and his wife have done to help the community, Littrell has a long list to share. Through their work with various organizations, the couple has provided counseling, tutored disadvantaged children, delivered meals, provided temporary shelter to homeless people, given wheelchairs to disabled people and more.
The Littrells have two children, a son Donald and a daughter, Terrie Kirkpatrick, as well as two grandchildren. Donald has a son named Luke who is currently a senior at Lee University, and Terrie’s daughter Tiffany lives in North Carolina.
When it comes down to it, Littrell can sum up his life’s mission in two words: “the cross.”
“It’s all about the cross,” he said.