Five Westmoreland sisters – that is to say, Dorothy, Barbara, Vanessa, Sandra and Allison – share something especially unique. All five of them married men of the cloth.
“My co-workers tease me about keeping the conversation PG around me,” said Dorothy Goins, laughing. She’s the oldest of the sisters by eight years. “But the way I live isn’t because I’m a pastor’s wife. A person can’t make you whole. Only God can do that.”
The sisters (and husbands) agreed their strengths as couples and parents are rooted in their relationship with God.
“We’ve learned through our struggles to trust in the word of God,” said Barbara Rogers, the next oldest. “Believe, pray, be thankful for the things you get and accept the things you don’,t and he’ll grant you stability and peace of mind.”
A mother’s faith
All together, the sisters and their brothers number 11 siblings, in addition to their mother and father. The siblings grew up on a farm in the Palmetto community in the 1950s.
“We didn’t have much, but we didn’t know it,” Dorothy said. “You could look through the cracks in the floorboards and see the ground.
Their father was sharecropper, so the children learned to work the land. They grew their own pigs and caught their own fish.
“We were fed plenty every day, so we didn’t know we were poor. We made each other laugh and cry as a family,” said brother Larry Westmoreland.
Sandra Bolden, the fourth oldest, said the biggest change in their lives came when their mother gave her life to Jesus Christ. Though they attended church all their lives, they could tell a true change had taken place because it lasted past Sunday evening.
“She lived saved seven days a week,” Sandra said.
Dorothy said they didn’t fully understand their mother’s transformation until they got older. As they became saved themselves, they realized how much of the way they were raised could be found in the Bible.
Tragically, the sisters lost their mother early to a car accident. Dorothy was 18, five years older than Barbara, the next oldest sister, and knew it was up to her to raise her sisters.
“Dorothy took up where Mom left off,” said Vanessa Flemmings, the middle sister. “She kept teaching us four little girls morals, how to conduct ourselves, kept us in church. She spanked our bottoms, too.”
Tough love was easier for some sisters than others.
“Sandra would just stand there and take it, but Vanessa was just so pitiful,” Dorothy said with laughter. “I learned from my mother what to expect of my siblings. She was such a mighty woman of God.”
Dorothy seems to have learned well. She and her siblings all finished high school and have found successful careers, some of them, including Dorothy and Sandra, in the health care profession. Vanessa and Barbara are even taking classes toward advanced degrees in their fields.
“We have a standard of living that, as kids, we thought was for other people, not us,” Dorothy said.
Barbara was the first to wed a man of the cloth, followed by Dorothy, then Sandra, then Vanessa, and finally Allison.
Most of the husbands were already pastors when they married, but Vanessa’s husband John Flemmings received his call after saying “I do.” John said people often asked him if he was a preacher, but one day when praying, he felt led to the scripture of Luke, when Jesus calls his disciples to preach in his name to all nations. He accepted it as God leading him to preach.
“Having my wife by my side through this journey has truly been a blessing,” John said.
Vanessa said she wasn’t surprised, that God had been putting him in positions of leadership within the church some time.
“We didn’t all set out to marry preachers, but we knew we wanted saved men,” Vanessa said.
Dorothy first met Michael Goins when Michael guest pastored at her church for a New Year’s Eve service. However, it wasn’t until he returned a few months later Dorothy became interested in him.
“The first time I came to her church, she fell asleep while I was preaching, so I had to come back again to get her attention,” Michael said.
Allison Harris, the youngest and last sister to marry, said she waited for the right man to come along, while her sisters reveal she turned down a slew of hopeful suitors before meeting Beamus Harris.
“I knew God would send someone my way. In the meantime, I kept myself busy in the church and became content in my walk with God. When my Romeo showed up, it felt right and was so worth the wait,” Allison said.
The husbands and sisters are all natives of the Lee County area, except for Michael, who hails from Ohio. After marrying Dorothy, the couple lived in Ohio 19 years before Michael was assigned to his current church. The husbands said they have become as close as biological brothers.
“Even though we’re all involved with the church, we cut up and have fun and enjoy life,” Sandra said. “Laughter is the best medicine.”
The sisters said they don’t live the way they do for their mother, but they believe their parents would be proud of them.
Walking the walk
Following in their mother’s footsteps, the sisters say they try to keep a godly attitude in their everyday lives.
“I am in charge of whether I have a good day or not,” Sandra said. “Every day is a day the Lord has made, so treat it that way and sow kindness. Because you reap what you sow.”
In the hospital environment, where Dorothy works, she said she has the opportunity every day to be the best she can, no matter who’s watching.
“I try to treat people like I would treat my own father,” Dorothy said. “It is a conscious effort that doesn’t come naturally, but if you work at it, God will reward you for it.”
When their mother was saved, the sisters said their father respected her beliefs and supported the girls going to church, but wasn’t saved himself until near the end of his life.
“Our father passed away in 2000, but because he embraced the Lord we could be at peace about it,” Dorothy said. “Romans tells us that all things work together through God. We’ve all been through things that have knocked the breath out of us, but we have each other and God has us.”