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Kelly and Gil Bates and their supersized family are featured on Bringing Up Bates. Complete with 19 children and nine grandchildren, the family certainly is unique in many ways. While the Bates subscribe to the same religious beliefs as the Duggar family, fans of the Bates consider them the hip and fresh version of ultra-conservative Christian reality stars, and that might have something to do with their origin story.  Sure, everyone is aware of the Bates now that they are a mega-family, but most people don’t know how it all began.

Where did Kelly and Gil Bates Meet?

Gil, whose real name is William Gilvin Bates, was raised in South Carolina with one sibling. Growing up he attended Methodist churches and was heavily involved in sports. As a high school student, he became involved in a Christian ministry and continued his ministry work when he got to college at Anderson.

Kelly Jo is the fourth of six children. Her parents divorced during her childhood, and her mother later went on to marry two more times. Kelly Jo attended Anderson College, where she met Gil Bates. According to a television interview, Gil was taken with Kelly right away, but she didn’t notice him. It was only once Gil needed science help, and Kelly as a lab assistant tutored him, that she began to notice him.

The pair began dating and transferred to Carson-Newman College together.  In 1987 Gil proposed to Kelly. They married in 1988. Kelly and Gil have both admitted that they had no plans to have children until they were married for several years, but just months after their wedding Kelly was pregnant.

Were Kelly Jo and Gil Bates always ultra-conservative?

No, they were not. Kelly and Gil were both practicing Christians when they met, and their religious beliefs helped bind them together, but the pair were not ultra-conservative while in college. In fact, they had plans to delay children for several years. However, Kelly had a change of heart early on in their marriage.

According to an interview Gil gave with The Christian Examiner, he was looking at children as a hindrance and was happy to use birth control to prevent pregnancy until the family was ready. Actively preventing pregnancy is against the rules of the ultra-conservative ministry the pair now belong to.

What do Gil and Kelly Bates do for a living?

Gil Bates first had an excavation and construction business with several of his oldest sons. They would spend most of their time cutting down trees and dealing with the construction needs of their small community in East Tennessee.

Later, Gil would go on to found a church, where he remains the pastor. Gil and Kelly both are practicing Baptists, and their goal is to create a community and offer ministry services to those in their area. Kelly Jo does not work outside the home. Instead, she is tasked with the education of the children and ensuring everyone is happy, healthy and fed.

While Kelly has a lot on her plate, things are beginning to get easier. Several of the children are out of the house and married with families of their own, leaving Kelly with a much smaller tribe to look after. The Bates’ youngest child is now 9 years old and becoming far more self-sufficient, the pair explained in a recent interview.