Throughout my more than half century of ordained ministry, I have felt called to ministry and presence among “the marginalized.” The imprisoned, the poor, and the hidden people in our communities have been critical to my life and ministry as a pastor, bishop, and seminary professor.
Additionally, an integral part of my sense of call is to work at the intersection of the church’s scholarship and its practices. For thirty-five years, I served as pastor of United Methodist local congregations in Virginia and Tennessee; and for twelve years I was an active bishop, serving the Nashville and Mississippi Episcopal Areas. Then, I joined the faculty of Duke Divinity School where I was named as the Ruth W. and A. Morris Williams Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry.
A significant shift in my scope of ministry took place ten years ago. My wife and partner in ministry, Linda, was diagnosed with Frontotemperal Dementia, one of the neuro-cognitive disorders that fall under the umbrella we regrettably label dementia!
Since that dismal rainy day in November 2009 when we first heard the dreaded word dementia, my world and vocation have shifted. I moved from bishop and professor to caregiver!
The global became very local! Major concerns dominating the denomination and academia receded to the margins of my preoccupation. My daily relationships shifted from the hyper-cognitive and hyper-productive to the cognitively impaired and productively diminished!
But being with people who live on the margins and with whose memories are fading and whose abstract thinking has disappeared and who may not know their own names shifts the margins of one’s thinking about God, about life, about the church and its mission, about what really matters.
Writing has always been important in my roles as pastor, bishop, and seminary professor. My daughters and several friends encouraged me to share my reflections, questions, and insights gained from current and past experiences through the medium of a blog.
I claim no superiority of thinking or insight. I have more questions than answers, for the years have taught me that each answer only expands and deepens the questions. My reflections are invitations to dialogue, not dogmatic declarations of infallibility. I value and respect the perspectives of others, including those who disagree with me. From my perspective, we are all “pilgrims on the way to God,” as Thomas Aquinas declared.