Feisty Women Forging Lifetime Connections by Marna McKenzie

Feisty Women Forging Lifetime Connections                  by Marna McKenzie


The UC Berkeley Campus was in turmoil in 1969. Outside the window the CA National Guard troops were at the ready with hand grenades, helmets, boots. Across the street students were milling about, talking in small groups, waving banners. Just before noon an older man from the nearby conservative Presbyterian Church had been photographing the “filth” posted on the bulletin board outside my office. Earlier in the morning I had discovered a very young girl curled in a fetal position on the bathroom floor – a miscarriage. An ordinary/extraordinary day in campus ministry at UNITAS, the ecumenical campus ministry on the corner of Bancroft and College, Berkeley, CA.

I was the interim campus minister of this venerable ecumenical ministry, not because of competence but to hold together a program going through the throes of leadership change,

attacks by conservatives, board power struggles, and the shifting of the universe of the university (and world) – the Free Speech Movement. Details of these days is recorded elsewhere, but my

situation was unique.

I am not an ordained clergyperson. I had started seminary a few years before but with a newly visible feminism found the instruction and atmosphere to be toxic. Nevertheless, I was on the

ministry staff as administrator, a Lay Professional in the Presbyterian Church (with no benefits).  John Hadsell has written a comprehensive history of the ministry personnel changes and

challenges. Three events during this time are mine to tell.

Story Number One. Joann Nash Eakin was one of the ministers when I joined the UCB team.  Feminism ferment was bubbling on the campus. She and I became connected with a group of “radical” women attending the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of seminaries north side of the campus. We began meeting together, doing “consciousness raising” about our situations as women, still hanging at the edge of leadership and influence in theological education and the life of the churches.

Our discontent moved quickly to rage and, as confidence built, we formed the Office of Women’s Affairs (loving the double entendre of our name!). We organized to press our case in three directions– the seminary presidents and boards, theology, and the local churches. We met often to hold together our strategies and our courage. Joann and I (and others) took on the local churches, demanding to have voice at such gatherings as the Presbyterian Asilomar Gathering, the UCC Annual Conference, the United Methodist offices in San Francisco. We pressed to be heard.

A few men came forward to publically support us; many rose to rave about “The Bible” and “history “ and our “destroying the church.” Women came forward to tell their stories, some shyly, some bold and angry. Anne McGrew Bennett offered powerful leadership and kept us focused on the international implications and our connection with the peace movement.  The OWA base expanded to include Catholic sisters (who were way ahead of Protestant women), Unitarians, Jewish sisters, Baptists, Disciples of Christ. Networks were formed across the country linking seminarians and women theologians and scholars who were bursting with radical insights and notions and forcing the religious world to pay attention to the powerful force of women who were demanding to be heard. We scraped together money for conferences in Berkeley, Chicago, and LA. The organized religious hierarchies began to pay attention.

Over the years the OWA became the Center for Women and Religion and continues its presence and influence. Its history is well documented and its stories recorded in the archives of the Graduate Theological Union. I am considered one of the “Founding Mothers” of the OWA. It gave me a community of women to bring me to voice and action with life-changing influences.

Story Number Two. One day in the early 70’s, Jan Greisinger appeared at my office door. At that time my professional world was circumscribed by the UC Berkeley campus ministry and beyond that Cooperative Ministries in Higher Education, the Northern California ecumenical organization linking campuses from Santa Cruz to Davis and Reno. Campus ministries were struggling with financial survival as denominational money was vanishing and the student population changing– in fact the whole scene was changing! But that is another story.

Jan (an ordained UCC campus minister from Ohio) was moving about the country visiting campuses where there was purported to be women on staff. She was one of a very few women in campus ministry leadership and had gotten a grant from the National Campus Ministry Association to identify women in campus ministry– $5000 if I remember correctly.  How about identifying and organizing the women? She offered to pay for transportation for a gathering, and Campus Ministry Women quickly evolved. CMW was a small group of women, each with incredible stories of struggle as women in ministry–and life. We met in homes all over the country — slept on the floor and cots, fixed our own meals, wept and laughed and plotted.

We invited campus ministry women to prepare proposals for women-related projects on their campuses. Each gathering we reviewed the proposals and after deep deliberation gave modest $$ and encouragement and support all over the country. Oh, the amazing women who gathered and who were empowered by this slight and feisty organization. Life-time connections between us were forged, and for many of us we first experienced “sisterhood.” I hope the details are sacred in the archives.

Story number 3. This story is a hodge-podge. I write this out of moments of reflections over the years now passed. My world now focuses around the arts and family and friends.  When I was 38 years old, my children were fleeing the nest, and my husband was entwined in his work. John Hadsell asked me to work with him in UC Berkeley campus ministry and thus began my real adult journey as a woman. The two stories above are cherished and formative memories of events, but what was really changing was me.

My world moved from the Berkeley campus to organizing new ministries in Northern California to working with UMHE and national responsibilities to international connections. Each environment challenged, demanded, and drew from me new aspects of myself. Most significantly I came to know what working with a team requires, how linked my life is with faith journeys, what intimate friendships can transcend time and space–Betsy and Mark and Charles and Clyde and Barry and Lizann and Joann and John……. and on and on. The dates are irrelevant right now. The heart memories are forever.


Marna J McKenzie

Sebastopol, CA


Written 9/23/2014



A Peculiar and Extraordinary Journey by Steven Darr

A Peculiar and Extraordinary Journey:

From Virginia Western Community College to the

Mekong Delta of Vietnam and the Townships of South Africa

By Steve Darr

In the visionary days of Community College Ministries in 1984, I was fortunate to work with Charles Downs, president of Virginia Western Community College. His vision for higher education, community, and culture was truly global, and he constantly worked to bring global interests to bear in the vocational and technical world of the community college. Charles and I had talked about ways to involve community college students in global experiences, when  along came John Killian, a brilliant Biology professor.  I suggested that we try a project with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic by sending VWCC students with John Killian to work on a rural project developed in the Haitian bateyes near La Romana.  Charles agreed.  John jumped on board and learned Spanish in three months and was off to La Romana with a host of students by the spring of 1985.

Later on, I wondered if this could not be a bigger opportunity. Could our ministry’s program to take students to the Dominican Republic appeal to other colleges?  In fact, there is no other educational institution whose resources match the needs of the developing world and our own local communities better than the community college.

A Peacework school garden in the Zamane Township of South Africa

At the same time, the Contra war was raging in Central America. I joined a peacemaking trip to Nicaragua and Guatemala sponsored by the Presbytery and wondered if the same student volunteers who worked in the Dominican Republic could not also serve as agents of peacemaking and change in a place like Nicaragua where homes and schools were being destroyed in the war.  Could volunteerism be that powerful?  Could we, in fact, bring together, volunteers from two sides of a global conflict to demonstrate the compelling need for peace?  It seemed like a simple idea.  It took two years to find the right partners.  The model of engaging local citizens in the bateyes of the Dominican Republic served as the model for bridging the Cold War in Nicaragua.  I had to come up with a name and chose Peacework.

The phone rang at 7:30 am ET on April 21, 1989. I’m glad I was home and not in the shower!  Yuri Alexandrin was calling from the Soviet Peace Fund in Moscow.  They were ready to accept my invitation to support a joint peacemaking volunteer effort in Nicaragua.  CEPAD accepted the challenge of hosting this tri-lateral effort.  In August 1989, 8 volunteers from the US and 8 volunteers from the Soviet Union rebuilt 5 houses for war-displaced families in Esteli.  Word spread.  Before the first project ended, we were planning a similar event in Mexico and a second in Nicaragua.

A global volunteer program was about as far from the imagination of the board of directors of Community College Ministries as any concept could get. However, it made sense to the board of directors to support a new program called Peacework that would promote the involvement of college students in global service, regardless of the college or church or other connections they have or where they are enrolled.  Peacework was thus launched as a completely independent, non-aligned 501(c)3 non-profit organization so that the new volunteer program could work with anyone, anywhere, at any time without any predisposition whatsoever to religious or national affiliation, ethnicity, political persuasion, or culture.  In fact, this element would be fundamental to the new idea.  Peacework was a product of the people and interests of Community College Ministries, including the college president Charles Downs, and launched from those ideals that make the community college an open-door institution.  One of the inaugural volunteers, Deborah Spencer, was a Virginia Western Community College alum and later obtained her Ph.D. in international development at Notre Dame.

The idea has grown steadily since its inception in 1989, working on projects such as housing in Nicaragua and Mexico, health care in Malawi and Peru and Guatemala and Haiti, education in Belize and Trinidad and India and the Dominican Republic, engineering and construction in Vietnam and Cameroon and Russia, working with children in Russia and South Africa and India and the Czech Republic and Ghana, and a host of other projects and sites. Peacework has developed projects with academic departments, programs, campus ministries, chaplaincies, student organizations, or professional schools with Gettysburg College, Milton Academy, Northeastern University, American University, George Washington University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Mary Washington, Virginia Tech School of Construction and Architecture & Urban Studies  and Agriculture and the Pamplin College of Business, Patrick Henry Community College, Virginia Western Community College, Lynchburg College, Roanoke College, Southern West Virginia Community College, Virginia Highlands Community College, Penn State, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Duke University’s Global Health Program and  Duke Engage, North Carolina State University, Meredith College, Rhodes College, the University of Arkansas Colleges of Engineering and Education and Business and Agriculture and Medical Sciences, the Clinton School of Public Service, Hendrix College, Oklahoma State University, Northeastern Oklahoma State University, North Central College, Gateway Technical College, the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Boise State University, Arizona School of Health Sciences, Rochester National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Wake Forest University, St. Lawrence University in Toronto, the University of Toronto, Waynesburg University, DePauw University, Siena College, and others.

Several campus ministers were instrumental in launching Peacework and its projects. Rod Sinclair brought a Soviet delegation to his campus in 1987 to speak about peacemaking.  It was a member of that delegation from Moscow who said his organization, the Soviet Peace Committee, could not sponsor the project but that he would find an organization that would.  Woody Leach started the Global Issues Advocate program at Virginia Tech that sent students to Haiti.  Clyde Robinson made the initial overtures to a Vietnamese group that would launch our post-war efforts in the Mekong Delta, Nha Trang, Dalat, and Hanoi.  Kathryn Adams at Youngstown State is one of dozens of campus ministers who have taken delegations to the former Soviet Union with Peacework and is still doing so today.

I also learned a valuable lesson from the community Hunger Hikes at Virginia Tech– the power of multiplication. One walker can get a contribution for one dollar for one mile.  But ten dollars per mile for ten miles walked by 300 volunteers generates $30,000 in donations.  It works for individuals, too.  Nearly 20,000 volunteers have participated in Peacework projects with hundreds of community partners in over 25 countries.  I would estimate that those 20,000 students and others have touched the lives of a million children and their communities around the world, and those children have changed the students’ lives in profound ways.  It all started with an idea and a phone call.

Peacework operates today under seven key principles. (1) The bottom line is improving the lives of people who live on the margins of society and who often lack basic resources and where modest investment of sweat and funding will launch a new project or bring an important community project to completion.  (2) When students live in a community and work alongside local citizens, their own lives and careers are profoundly changed.  Every one of us enters these experiences knowing very little about the conditions in which people live and work around the world and our worlds are forever changed by this experience.  (3) Peacework’s foundational principle is not “helping people” but rather “working alongside” local community or village partners in the process of their own development and with a full appreciation of indigenous self-determination.  This is not our concept.  It belongs to Jerry Aaker who worked with Heifer International.  Read his book Partners with the Poor –especially page 137.  (4) Our organization wants to match the human and material resources of those who have them with those who don’t.  (5) We take care of you.  Security and safety is the highest priority.  (6) No one’s culture or customs are better than another’s.  Everything is planned with respect for the culture and customs of the participants on all sides.  (7) Good things can come in both large and small doses.  I like short-term projects that are manageable and effective, but I love to see long-term partnerships in development come from these relationships.  Long-term relationships best utilize resources and offer the most effective outcomes.

I hope those outcomes will have specific, measurable benefits and lead to positive, lasting social change and foster new opportunities for young people where there were no or very limited opportunities before. I also hope that these experiences will inspire those who participate to be change agents throughout their lives.


Steve Darr


620 N. Main St., Suite 306

Blacksburg, VA 24060




The Thing Itself: The Tapestry of A Ministry in Higher Ed by Thomas Mainor

The Thing Itself: The Tapestry of A Ministry in Higher Ed

An interesting and varied cast of characters provided material and the looms that helped to weave a curious tapestry of campus ministries in Virginia in the late ‘60s into the ‘80s. Beyond traditional student ministries, there was a slow evolution, a journey that led to new understandings of the Thing itself. What developed was not a carefully conceived and fabricated design or vision. What did emerge was an interesting opportunity to take part in campus ministry during a time when national, regional and local governing bodies shared the costs, and when Campus Ministry shared ideas of ministry shaped to the times.

Following Seminary, I was called to a rural/labor parish, Falling Spring, in the ‘forks of the James’ ‘twixt the Shenandoah and Roanoke valleys of Virginia—a wonderful congregation in an historic setting. The view from the front steps of the Church was idyllic, rolling foothills, Blue Ridge Mountains, homes and farms. Great folks. Good things were happening.

With uncertainty, I accepted a call in1967 to be Presbyterian campus minister at William and Mary and Associate Pastor at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. The call came from three agencies; the Synod of Virginia, Presbytery of Norfolk, and the Williamsburg congregation.

At William and Mary, with an interesting array of colleagues, we soon formed CaMU, Campus Ministries United, enabling us to work together ecumenically and interfaith with students, college faculty and administration in ways not otherwise possible. Our joint efforts helped provide access to college resources and venues that might otherwise be unavailable. For example, we co-sponsored with the art department an on-campus exhibition of the linoleum block print art of Robert Hodgell, of then Florida Presbyterian (Eckerd) College. We featured a Wesley/CaMU Coffee House performer, guitarist/vocalist, Cleveland Francis, in standing-room-only crowd in Phi Beta Kappa Hall, space provided by the college.

Engagement with the Honors Program, Student Affairs, and a newly formed Department of Religion was well received. We created a joint office through the facilities and resources of the Wesley Foundation, where United Methodist campus minister Braxton Allport and I shared space and secretary. CaMU met regularly to plan programs and provide mutual support for seven denominations including Catholic, Christian Scientist and Jewish communities. Each of us worked with denominational groups with students, providing pastoral and liturgical support opportunities, and together on campus with a variety of program efforts.

In 1969, the Danforth Report, The Church, the University and Social Policy, was published. It made significant impact on my own understanding of higher education ministry. Focused on mainline Protestant ministries, director of the study Kenneth Underwood identified four principle modes of ministry considered most influential: those of pastor, priest, prophet and king. That is, ministry to persons, the speaking forth of the essentials of faith and provision for liturgical occasions, focusing on justice and mercy in society, and the governance structures of society—how love of neighbor is expressed practically where we live.

The basic assumption in the Underwood Study was that the university is a key institution in our society. The role was one of working with faculty and developing student leadership who would have significant opportunity to become competent in a variety of disciplines, to shape social policy and influence legal, business, political rhetoric and the social fabric of society. The university also greatly influenced those who would eventually become leaders in religious communities. Universities enabled society to remember and reflect on its history and values affirmed from founding documents and events that challenged those values through the years. The poetry and literature of cultures provided introductions to the meaning of life in a larger commonwealth. Study of new developments in scientific research about the world around us, about the human imprint on the earth and negative influences upon it, how to think about the order of things, and how to govern and be governed were fundamentally important. Also significant was the nature and provenance of the values that prevail in academic inquiry and in society’s economic and legal frameworks. Underwood felt that too often, the university operated under values-free research while church efforts on behalf of social and corporate ministry lacked competence. Both aspects, he felt, were critical and significant to society. Linkage of well-informed, and knowledgeable ethical reflection was essential to a healthy society—thus the Church (writ large), the University and Social Policy.

The role of the church—I understood—was not only to be a pastor to students, but also at least as vigorously and competently, see faculty and administrators in a pastoral and collegial light (many sat in our congregations). We were to seek—among many voices present—to reflect a responsible prophetic voice in the community. We had no ‘right’ to be heard. We did have—because of the roles religions play in the world, for good or ill—a significant opportunity to be responsibly engaged as congregations around campus and in programs we might co-sponsor as partners within the College. Indeed, religious communities had a long history of founding schools and colleges, not least in the early days of our nation—Harvard, Princeton, Davidson, Duke, to name but a few. Our engagement within education had a long history and no less in publically funded higher education.

At William and Mary for CaMu, the Honors Program was willing to partner with us in occasional programs. In the Viet Nam era, a Peace Research academic focus was initiated. Important given all that was happening on campuses across the nation, such as Kent State. Under the leadership and resources of the Honors and Project Plus program, we worked in the creation of a yearlong Conflict and Conflict Resolution emphasis. There were 85 students and 15 faculty selected across disciplines—including military science—in the program. The c0-ed dorm, innovative in those days, housed all 85 students, providing opportunity for non-structured exchanges. The course represented one-quarter of a student’s academic load. There were weekly evening seminars for the program that included guest participants. One evening seminar on the Palestinian-Israeli divide included a representative of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a Palestinian envoy—also from D.C.—who engaged with one another and with students and faculty.

On one occasion, we were able to co-sponsor Marvin Kalb, then CBS Diplomatic Correspondent, for about 500 in a Parents Day program. Honors at W&M helped with the costs and he spoke to two classes, in addition to an evening presentation. In that period during Viet Nam demonstrations and the Kent State tragedy, such was a strong positive dialogue on campus.

Meanwhile, Synod-wide in those ‘thrilling days of yesteryear,’ the Synod’s executive, James A. Payne, Jr., played a strong partnership role in support and development of a Synod-wide Campus Ministry Staff Team. Presbyterian team leadership included campus ministry Sage, Woody Leach, serving Virginia Tech. His campus ministry focus on justice ministries and his long presence at VPI was impressive. His associate was Jim VandeBerg, an insightful and thoughtful colleague, whose talents provided important leadership then and in future years to the denomination. They were especially involved in a host of issues related to Appalachia and the social issues that grew out of the exploitation by the coal industries. Night Comes to the Cumberlands and Yesterday’s People are examples of the issues focus of the times. Both Jim and Woody played major roles in leading and interpreting the campus ministries that evolved across the Virginias, and in my own understanding of what ministry in higher education was all about.

The Synod executive worked actively and supportively with us and helped higher education ministries evolve, including guiding us in dealing with funding issues. Each of our campuses had different styles of ministry, and the staff team seemed to come together to breathe fire into the larger strategies for the new Synod of the Virginias (including West Virginia and Pennsylvania’s Trinity Presbytery) and local campus ministries across the area. This particular team also included ministries on campuses large and small. “Flash” (Howard) Gordon at UVA and others included ecumenical partners on campuses, such as Jim McDonald, United Methodist Minister at THE University. The ecumenical team partners grew in importance and included Catholic Campus Ministry coordinator, Cosmos Rubencamp, and John Coffey of the United Methodists. Throughout this time, staff like Clyde Robinson of the PCUSA national staff and others were significant and supportive colleagues.

Importantly, we were enabled to envision and plan campus ministry across Virginia in a larger context with our supporting agencies than might otherwise be possible. Pastoral concerns joined Jim VandeBerg and me with the national Clergy Consultation on Problem Pregnancies, dealing with abortions and alternatives prior to Roe v Wade in 1973. This evolved into denomination-wide pastoral efforts on the issue, which later began to focus on larger health ministry issues.

Our campus ministry team approach also involved the expansion into northern Virginia—George Mason University and Community Colleges in the area—where we gained yet another United Methodist Colleague. Robert Thomason provided significant leadership in the years ahead. He later became staff to the Virginia Council’s Campus Ministry Forum. Jim McDonald became Executive for Virginia Council of Churches. This mirrored national trends, as Campus Ministry tended to transition from denominational to ecumenical efforts. Significantly, funding was available from denominational leadership on the national stage. Presbyterian national staff was deployed regionally as well as UMHE. It was also a time when social issues—especially civil rights and the Viet Nam war—played out with powerful campus impact. The Church asked what it meant to be Christian in such a time, and controversy swirled around ways in which ministers on campus understood their role. Pastoral and Prophetic intertwined. The support of UMHE and the National Campus Ministry Association were significant. So, too, was the influence of national denominational leadership, who provided funding for UMHE.

At UVA, Jim McDonald, a supportive colleague over many years, was part of a team approach through the Virginia Council of Churches called the Virginia Campus Ministry Forum. In the early ‘70s, Jim and I attended at least two or three annual conferences of the American Association for Higher Education in Chicago. There we were immersed in issues and trends in higher education and, we thought, important to campus ministry. For me, one workshop, sponsored by Nursing Educators, featured one whose leadership would prove significant in future bioethics and health ministries. Introduced to the insights of Dr. Edmund Pellegrino—then Chancellor and VP of Health Sciences at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Memphis—fresh notions began forming of what ‘campus ministry’ might involve and what types of campuses might be part of the scene. It proved to be important in years ahead as health care and ethics issues continued to grow in understanding the relevance of higher education ministries—not only to campuses, but—to the ecclesiastical communities own concepts.

In the late 60s and early 70s, Presbyterian higher education ministries in Philadelphia, under contributed staff, campus minister Ron McNeur, performed administrative support for the Society for Health and Human Values. Verlyn Barker wrote for United Ministries in Education a report in 1987 entitled Health and Human Values. In it he provided a historical record of the Health and Human Values and “lift up the learnings of the program for the churches.” He noted that we become involved in addressing pain and suffering, and risk being consumed by it. We can become so involved in addressing the hurt that we do not have time to help persons and communities understand issues and needs in order to anticipate decision-making and participation in our complex world.[1] A listing of colleagues mentioned demonstrates a depth of commitment from across the nation.

During these days, biomedical ethics grew from an early nascency to become a critically important dimension in medical and nursing education. In addition, it attracted a significant core of philosophers and lawyers. The Society was officially established in 1969. It was an entity of United Ministries in Higher Education. Part of its early funding came from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Again, engagement at a national and regional level was significant in obtaining needed finances. SHHV sought primarily to be a membership organization for those engaged in studying and promoting values in medicine and medical education. The primary objective promoted informed concern for human values as an essential dimension of the education of health professionals. The first Department of Medical Humanities was formed at Penn State University Med Center in Hershey, PA. Bioethics emerged as a new discipline. Dr. Pellegrino and others visited over 80 medical schools to introduce faculty and students to the new discipline and to set up an educational program for future generations of doctors. They intended that bioethics move from literary texts, reports and commissions to changes in the clinical practice of ordinary physicians and health professionals and clinically based bioethics committees. One cannot peruse the lists of SHHV leaders from the early years without noting the frequency of Dr. Pellegrino’s involvement.

An Internal Medicine specialist, Dr. Pellegrino, in 1975, led Yale-New Haven Medical Center. In 1978, he became President of Catholic University, then Director of Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute. Dr. Pellegrino strongly felt that Medicine was a moral enterprise. He told Georgetown Magazine “if you take away the ethical and moral dimensions (from medicine), you end up with a technique. The reason it’s a profession is that it’s dedicated to something other than its own self-interests.”

Departments of Medical Humanities and Bioethics committees slowly came to be recognized and organized in medical education and health care settings. Committee members needed education in a field that saw the growth of an extensive literature. Attitudes of resistance and skepticism slowly gave way as medical faculties recognized the importance of a humanities component in scientific medicine. Medical curriculum came to include substantial time and content in ethics, law, humanities and the social sciences.

In 1998, SHHV, along with the Society for Bioethics Consultation and the American Society for Bioethics, merged to form the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. Many of the early leaders provided a core for both organizations, and the academic depth was sound and impressive.

In the early 1970s, as I became Campus Urban Minister for the Presbytery of Norfolk, with the support of the Synod, the work expanded. Not only did this continue to involve the College of William and Mary, but Old Dominion University, Norfolk State and nine other schools across the region. Soon, however, Eastern Virginia Medical School and ODU were a heavy focus for me on the other side of Hampton Roads. Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), a community-based medical school being developed in Norfolk, became for me one of the campuses among those in our region.

Dr. Donnie J. Self was hired as shared faculty with Old Dominion and EVMS, including financial and staff support from Synod and Presbytery Campus Urban resources. Don received a B.S. in chemistry and a B.A. in philosophy in 1965 and 1967 from Furman University. He worked two years as an industrial chemist. In that period, he pursued graduate studies in philosophy. He gained his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in 1969 and 1973 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For six years, he did cancer research in neuropathology at Duke University Medical Center. When he came to Norfolk, he began an active focus in Bioethics. His area of special interest concentrated upon cognitive moral development theory and its application to the field of medicine.

Over the years, Dr. Self taught bioethics at ODU and EVMS, then became full-time at Eastern Virginia. It afforded me an exceptional opportunity to work with Dr. Self and others in the context of medical education. King’s Daughters Children’s Hospital, Norfolk General and Leigh Memorial Hospitals provided for me the clinical context to work in the area of neonatology as chaplain/ethicist. Other hospitals came on board and enabled a remarkable array of opportunities for the Human Values program and its students. For me, as a campus pastor interested in bioethics and health care issues, this was a significant gift to efforts in understanding how religious communities could be constructively involved—getting educated on the issues as well as engaging in and contributing to the dialogue from a religious values perspective. We were exploring the interfaith with medicine and religion. Around the country, these programs began to grow and find a place in medical and nursing education. Dr. Granger Westberg was one among those in Chicago with whom we worked over the years.

During the late 70s, with the advent of in-vitro-fertilization in England, the EVMS-based Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine gave significant opportunity for Dr. Self and the program to engage with doctors Howard and Georgiana Jones, of the EVMS Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The challenges of and resistance to the idea of in-vitro fertilization at that time were significant. Before the birth of the first In Vitro Fertilized baby in the U.S., Elizabeth Carr in 1981, there was not only the challenge of starting such a program, but through Drs. Jones’ efforts and those of Medical Humanities, discovering how to helpfully engage with the larger community, the Catholic Diocese of Virginia and others. The department assisted in helping communications with Bishop Walter Sullivan and others in exploring issues, the science and moral concerns inherent. Bishop Sullivan was engaged in the discussions.

Don Self put the department of Medical Humanities at EVMS on a remarkable course through the years. He led annual Human Values retreats for the entire school, students, administrators and faculty. He invited a strong list of national leaders in Bioethics to monthly discussion groups with faculty and students. Genealogy studies and patient interview skills were emphasized. Among others, he published numerous articles in ethics and moral development theory. In the area of moral reasoning among medical students he published several articles on their research with the Rev. Dr. Joy D. Skeel of the Medical University of Ohio in Toledo. He has to date written and published over 100 articles and published three books in important areas in the medical humanities. Around 1982, he moved from EVMS and became faculty in Medical Humanities at Texas A & M University College of Medicine, continuing his creative approach to health care issues, detailing issues concerning care and cure. In recent years he has become editor of the Journal for Theoretical Medicine.

Clearly, we were quite fortunate to be able to share in the growth in the area of medical humanities. In no way could ecclesiastical budgets have afforded us the resources to design such, even had we the brains or skills to do so. But allowed to partner with the new medical school, physicians and others enabled an involvement that exceeded expectations. At least mine. Study opportunities for me afforded included two visits to the University of North Carolina Med School to work with Dr. Larry Churchill, in the Department of Medical Humanities, with clinical opportunities provided by Dr. James Bryan II, who was professor of social and community medicine. Larry Churchill and Dr. Bryan made it possible for me to take part in daily rounds with physicians, medical students, nurses and clinical pharmacists—a model which was found to be an effective and sound way to learn and practice patient care. Grand Rounds on Morbidity and Mortality also provided powerful insights. The manner of teaching and the results repeatedly won Dr. Bryan with accolades from medical students. Students and alumni praised Dr. Bryan for demonstrating the importance of getting to truly know patients and then to care for them as individuals. On home medical visits with Dr. Bryan, I learned a lot about pastoral care. Student after student, when he receive a Mentor Award for Life-time Achievement said, essentially, “Dr. Bryan taught me to be a ‘real doctor,’ one who can talk with patients, one who combines intelligence with compassion.” The clinical model experienced in those study leaves made a powerful impression over the years, which translates well for chaplains and pastors in medical settings.

Dr. Larry Churchill, who later moved to Vanderbilt University, explored among many issues, the ethics of the justice issues in health care reform, as well as the basics of What Patients Teach: The Everyday Ethics of Healthcare. He remained an invaluable and accessible colleague over the years. He has written numerous articles and books. One on Rationing Health Care in America grew out of both clinical observations and moral reasoning.

Having served as an advisory member of the Human Values Committee of EVMS for several years, in 1980 I became for two years a part-time member of the EVMS faculty in Medical Humanities and Religion. At the same time, I served as part-time staff to the Virginia Campus Ministry Forum, with attendant duties. At EVMS, the clinical area in which I was able to serve for two years was the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King’s Daughters Hospital for Children. Joining the faculty of EVMS in 1980, Dr. Thomas Pellegrino, oldest son of Edmund Pellegrino, who brought to his practice and teaching in Medicine and Neurology the passions for human values in medicine we saw in his father. He was an immensely popular professor and a highly regarded physician.

From a ‘campus ministry’ perspective, things changed dramatically in 1983 when I was asked to become the first hospital chaplain for Norfolk General and Leigh Memorial Hospitals, consisting of two hospitals with 900 beds. Concurrent with that move in about 1983, Norfolk General became Medical Center Hospitals and founded its first medical helicopter trauma team. They had a crew of about 26, a state-of-the-art flying intensive care unit with a staff second to none. Not complaining. I had a wonderful secretary to assist me in serving the two hospitals. In time, we were able to engage about 40 community clergy as volunteers to give full coverage. The major clinical areas covered, in addition to the Operating Rooms, were the Trauma and Burn Unit, some step-down units and especially the newly developing hospice unit. We provided chaplaincy services across the religious spectrum and sought to engage in a ‘medicine and religion partnership’ method of approach developed in the EVMS human values program, where I continued an adjunct faculty status. We conducted sessions with community clergy on a regular basis and with nursing staff around Issues in Patient Care, which covered a host of subjects dealing with staff, families as well as patients and occasionally in congregations.

An area of continuing concern remained access to and the provision of quality health care for all persons. Then as now, health costs were soaring. This had been a focus of denominations during the 1960s and 70s. I served the Presbyterian Church U.S. (southern) as part of the Committee on Therapeutic Abortion, which (after Roe v Wade in 1973) then morphed into the Presbyterian Health Network (PCUS), recognizing the larger health care dimensions of the day, staffed by Patricia Turner from the Atlanta office of the denomination. We focused on assisting congregations with locally based church health centers and advocating for health care reform. We partnered before the reunion with the United Presbyterians with the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association of UPCUSA. There we sought to increase the focus on health care issues in their annual conferences. They reflected significant aspects of the Underwood Report of years earlier concerning the Church, University and Social Policy. Many were from colleges and universities.

Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, at the dedication of the Health and Welfare Building in the nation’s capital said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. In 1976, a report of the Presbyterian Health Network, authored for the Health Network by Albert Keller—a pastor and minister in medical education”[2] in Charleston, S.C—went to the General Assembly. Its preface:

Health and the provision of health are priority concerns… The issue of health points to the basic assumptions about the nature and value of human life. For this reason the Church has a compelling interest in that debate: at a fundamental level, that debate is theological. In giving serious attention to the meaning of health and to the social structure by which health care is delivered to people, we, the Church, acknowledge our unexcelled opportunity to declare the Gospel at a level of deep personal concern to our communities.[3]

That theme, of health and healing being an “unexcelled opportunity,” stuck with us and with many elements of the church as we worked together in the ‘80s to address the need for controlling health care costs and assuring access to quality health care for the nation. We knew the costs kept soaring far above the inflation level, and the issues were fundamental to ministries of the Church of Christ. A stimulus was the increasing costs to the Church’s Board of Pensions, with the medical coverage included. But it was not the only reason. In 1980, the national health bill was $248.1 billion, 9.1% of GDP. In 1986 it was $458 billion and 10.9% GDP. As this is written in 2014, national expenditures approach $3 Trillion, and 20% of GDP. We still spend twice as much per person as other industrial nations without arranging as they do in assuring every citizen the care needed.

The Presbyterian Church along with other religious communities over the years had continued to provide health and healing ministries through medical services. As in years past Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists, 7th Day Adventists and others had many hospitals bearing their names, nationally and internationally. Many bore the names but were no longer denominationally connected. The tradition continued. As example, Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s in Chicago, or Lutheran General, Presbyterian Hospitals in NY, Pennsylvania and California. We recognized, too, that such modest services by religious communities could not accomplish what the nation required. We knew we had to support national policies and programs that met the needs of the larger society on a just and humane basis, and issued six position papers on health issues from 1960 to 1983.

In 1984, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church authorized and began work through a Task Force on Health Costs and Policies, which was overseen by three agencies: the Advisory Council on Church and Society, International Missions and the Board of Pensions. I was appointed national staff to the Task Force in the spring of 1985, necessitating a move to Philadelphia for three years. Not your grandfather/mother’s campus ministry any more.

The Task Force consulted many policy analysts and authorities. During our three years of study and research, we traveled to Toronto and became informed by the Canadian Health System, met with experts from the School of Public Health at Macalester College, Toronto, and looked at health systems of other nations. As well, we engaged health policy experts and lobbyists from Washington, D.C. We had solid research from university departments and obtained details on health indices from across the nation. We enlisted the partnership of seven presbyteries and four theological seminaries in special projects. The question asked all of us: What would it look like if, at every level of its life, the Presbyterian Church took seriously the health and healing dimensions of the Christian Faith? We conducted surveys of 1835 congregations seeking to discover what was happening in local congregations.

We published in 1988 a book of essays reflecting our efforts, edited by Walter Wiest of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; Health Care and Its Costs: A Challenge to the Church. Fifteen contributors from across the spectrum contributed to the book. Authors came from many higher education institutions: Boston University, Franklin and Marshall College, Pittsburgh Theological, United Theological in New Brighton, Minnesota, Union Theological in Richmond, Colgate Rochester, Medical University of South Carolina, and LSU. Other authors included Dr. Granger Westberg on the role of a congregation in health ministry (who played an important role in our Medical Center Ministry in Chicago), a nurse practitioner and minister, as well as staff. University Press of America was publisher. The Report itself, Life Abundant: Values, Choices and Health Care, was submitted to the 1988 PCUSA General Assembly,

As contract staff, responsibility with the Task Force ended in mid-1988. That left me scrambling to discover what lay in the future, as the time up until mid-year was filled with completing Task Force responsibilities. A professional colleague who lived in Albuquerque, Joan McIver Gibson, then Senior Program Director of the Institute of Public law at the University of New Mexico, suggested an opportunity to “go west, old man.” She also lead annual summer seminars on bioethical and health policy issues at the Presbyterian Church’s Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. These seminars were a regular feature at Ghost Ranch from the mid-eighties through the nineties. In 1993, Joan served as a member of the White House Ethics Working Group on the Clinton Health Policy Task Force. Dr. Gibson invited me to come to Albuquerque (to take the opportunity available) as a study opportunity with law and med students at the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Law and Public Policy.

Betty and I sold our house in Philadelphia, and moved to Albuquerque (with no guarantees of anything). During this time, I served an interim as Chaplain to the New Mexico Center for the Severely and Profoundly Retarded in Los Lunas. I was later called as part-time pastor to New Life Presbyterian Church—a really interesting and challenging time and a unique congregation. Other involvements involved serving as secretary to the board of Albuquerque Health Care for the Poor and as a member of the Institutional Review Board of St. Joseph’s Hospital.

David McGowan, long-time NCMA/UMHE campus minister at the University of Illinois Chicago developed a nascent Medical Center Ministry supported by the Presbytery of Chicago and the United Methodist Northern Illinois District. In 1990 I accepted a call to become director of the Ministry. A United Methodist pastor, Judith Kelsey Powell pastored the United Church of the Medical Center. The Director of the Medical Center Ministry was to lead ministry at University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Med School and School of Pharmacy Administration, Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke and Cook County Hospitals. Both the congregation and the Ministry were in the same building in the shadows of the West Side Medical Center complex.

The next five years were a wonderful opportunity to explore what was possible. Health reform was on the national agenda. At the time, there were known to be over 5000 parish nurses across the nation, and was part of a vision led by Dr. Granger Westberg. Dr. Westberg became a member of our MCM Board. Primary and preventive care was emphasized. Lutheran General was a center for the Parish Nurse Network. The University of Kentucky had such emphases. Congregations (such as Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago and Central Presbyterian in Atlanta) were already deeply involved in their own full time and well staffed health ministries.

Our presence in the shadow of the Med Center afforded wonderful and significant opportunity to work in clinical areas with physicians, nurses, and chaplain/bioethicists in Cook County, Rush Presbyterian St. Luke and UIC hospitals. Dr. Homer Ashby—who worked with us on the Task Force on Health Costs—was instrumental in opening doors with McCormick and Lutheran Seminaries, located on the University of Chicago campus. Dr. Ashby and I co-taught a course, The Church as Health Resource, over a period of four years, with a total of 53 students. Many were dual degree students in nursing and ministry or law and ministry. 18 students took fieldwork with us at the West Side Medical Center.

Medical Center Ministries also shared planning and teaching in dual degree efforts at West Side Medical Center and Park Ridge Center. We developed a ten-week multi-disciplinary integrative seminar on the Health Minister/Parish Nurse dual degree with nursing schools at Loyola, North Park, Rush Community Nursing, St. Xavier, McCormick and the University of Chicago Theological Seminaries. With partnering, we were able to utilize a widely diverse and talented faculty for the courses, Including Mary Ann McDermott and Robert O’Gorman of Loyola, Homer Ashby of McCormick Seminary, Linda Edwards of Rush, and important other partners.

Among our interns, Barbara Sittler worked a year with Dr. Dan Brauner-an MCM Board member—in the Geriatrics team at UIC. Dr. Brauner provided preceptorships for two additional students. Kimberly Hawthorne (a dual degree in law and Divinity) worked with First United Church in Oak Park. Her Senior Ministry Project was entitled Sisters in Healing: Patient Stories and Histories of Healers. Stacy Kitahta wrote an excellent reflection from an international perspective, part of which was the Christian Medical Commission of the World Council of Churches. Among the things Elizabeth Robinson took from our course at Seminary was: At the very least, we should emphasize that the community is instrumental in helping the individual to maintain her health. Quoting Albert Keller from Health Care and Its Costs, she writes, as sickness changes everything, healing, as well, changes everything. She concluded: Healing is a relationship event. Healing places a person back in community… In Biblical faith, the creation of community—truthful community, embodying justice, mercy, and centeredness in God—is perhaps the ultimate act of healing. Amy Fleischauer worked with the Park Ridge Center (Second Opinion Magazine) on the issue of physician-assisted suicide. These students had opportunity to minister to patients, and discover the importance of colleagueship with and ministering to medical and nursing staff. We engaged with faculty and students at the UIC School of Pharmacy Administration with Dr. Jack Salmon and others and presented to pharmacy students on ethical issues.

Health Policy issues remained a strong, persistent and divisive issue. Invited to be a member of the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, which provided a significant opportunity to continue to explore issues in health reform and health financing issues. Close proximity to the Canadian Health System enabled the group to engage Chicago political leadership in exposure to Canada’s approach to health financing, resulting in a visit by a group of leaders to Toronto to meet with Canadian Public Health experts. Later a Canadian legislator from Manitoba came for a program offered describing the strengths and weaknesses of the system. Dr. Quentin Young, a physician at Cook County and in private practice, led health and Medicine Policy Research. He was an advocate for comprehensive health care reform. He still is at it with a sterling group of colleagues through the work of PNHP, Physicians for A National Health Program, with over 150,000 physicians across the nation. They advocate a Single Payer approach to health reform.

The 1993 205th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church endorsed the principle of a universal health plan for all, giving priority to a single payer system. That system was described as a publicly funded system of privately delivered medical care that includes the establishment of a public financing system, a definition of universal benefits, the establishment of prospective capital improvement budgets, caps on financial expenditures, and oversight of quality control while maintaining the private delivery of direct medical services.

The Church’s task regarding health was seen to affirm and serve the values of compassionate justice in the political economy, as well as a model that leads by example in its own heath ministries. Life Abundant (1988) was noted as supplying theological and biblical roots for such being and advocacy. As in the assumptions of Kenneth Underwood decades before, this was “the responsible community” inventing and evaluating itself. It did so in addressing health care and social policy.

The nurse, physician and health professional are co-ministers and healers, their interventions occurring at some of the most sacred moments in life—birth, death, trauma, even conception… The Church must clearly affirm the ministry of these health professionals within the worshipping and ministering community of faith… Technical competence and human compassion belong side by side in both the religious and secular arena.[4]

In 1995, Medical Center Ministries—at least my part in that era—came to a close when Rush-Presbyterian bought our building and property for its own expansion. The congregation of the United Church of the Medical Center moved a few miles west to the suburbs. After repeated attempts to find a way to continue—MCM was terminated. We explored alternatives with Evangelical Health Systems and other partners, as well as foundations. The share of funds from the sale of the property was to be used only for new property, not programming or staff. We lost our support.

Despite Kenneth Underwood’s recommendations of the ‘60s and ‘70s—for campus ministries to receive increased funding from foundations and governing bodies—special ministries across the board were nevertheless truncated. The imperative to integrate the four historic modes of ministry into a comprehensive concept of the Church’s mission still was ‘a work in progress’. We have focused well on providing persons a faith perspective from which to cope with life’s enduring challenges. We have not done so well in corporate and social ministry. Integration of the four modes of ministry is, as Leo Sandon wrote, “the necessary prerequisite for meaningful mission…”[5]

Called to pastor Shady Grove Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, beginning in 1996, seemed to be an admission on my part “at last,” some said, to return to the congregation: “the congregation is where the real action is!” As Verlyn Barker has written in his own reflections, there was always much discussion about congregation-based ministry. That was the mantra heard over and over. But the question repeatedly arises, “What would it mean if at every level of our lives we took seriously the implications of the gospel in every setting and situation in which we find ourselves—especially and including those educational centers, medical, nursing and law schools—even schools of business administration—where the ‘best and the brightest’—as well as the least of us—seek to learn what it means to serve the commonweal with their whole being?”

Never one to totally agree with the foregoing, nor to discount the centrality of congregations in moving the church forward, it seemed that institutional ministries for me were now in the rear view mirror. Now, my intention was to be a good pastor and finish out my remaining years before retirement with a wonderful group of folks at Shady Grove. But out of that call grew a number of interesting developments. And with the support of the congregation, things happened.

The Memphis Church Health Center, led by clergy/physician Dr. Scott Morris, was a growing health ministry in Memphis directly providing care to those who were the working poor and without health insurance. The Center provided excellent primary care, pastoral care and excellent referral services provided significant access to specialists across Memphis. Methodist Hospital contributed important resources and support, both physical and human. Dr. Morris was an enthusiastic and convincing leader for the Center. A member of our congregation proposed for Shady Grove to support the ministry through a “Race for Grace,” a 5-K run, begun upon the Congregation’s 40th Anniversary, and continued over the years. The Race was a success. Another resource we were able to provide was for the National Parish Nurse Network out of St. Louis, who needed a place to gather parish nurses in Memphis for education and certification. We did that. I was invited to serve as a faculty member in Bible and Theology for the annual sessions. The commissioning was held in the Sanctuary.

An opportunity arose to teach with a physician colleague at Memphis Theological Seminary entitled, “Health Ministries and the Church”. Dr. James H. Ericson and I did this jointly for two years. Dr. Erickson, an MD, MPH and MS worked with the Civil Air Patrol National Health Program.

The third important area was the ability to encourage and be part of Dr. Tom Feagin’s efforts at Methodist Central Hospital, who led in formation of a Bio Ethics advisory committee for the area. We met regularly at various hospitals, but mostly at Methodist. Over time we formed what was called the Memphis Bioethics Consortium. With the collaboration of many in area hospitals—including City of Memphis Regional Hospital, a strong Veterans’ Administration hospital, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Baptist and others—the Consortium began symposia on various topics that were held, not only in various local hospitals, but also annually at the University of Memphis and Rhodes College. At the University of Memphis, the Consortium sponsored Dr. Larry Churchill (newly arrived at Vanderbilt Med School) for a focus on justice issues in health care reform. In the year 2000, at Rhodes College, the Consortium featured Dr. Al Jonsen, emeritus professor of medicine and ethics from the University of Washington. Dr. Jonsen presented two addresses, the first tracing the history of medical ethics beginnings, “God committees”—dialysis anyone?” and another on how to analyze clinical cases. Dr. Robert Llewellyn, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rhodes, was a member of the Consortium, hosting us on many occasions, and finally assumed responsibility for leadership. Dr. Feagin retired. So did I. Dr. Rob Llewellyn, at Rhodes College carried on.

The journey—The Thing Itself; the Tapestry of but one aspect of ministry in higher education—sought to be one of responding to both demonstrated need and opportunities presented, inspired by our understanding of what we understood as faithfulness to the task. It reflects a conviction concerning how we practice conveying the Good News, how we show the ways in which values are conveyed in our society beyond the sanctuary and into our schoolhouses and the communities in which we live. For me, it seems to fit what it means to be “doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God,” discovering the responsiveness of the Samaritan not passing by the one wounded, and of learning and forming life around what love of the neighbor requires.

Thomas F. Mainor         Williamsburg, Virginia   September 12, 2014

A Post Script

Post Retirement Betty and I returned to Williamsburg in 2002. An early opportunity to ‘fail retirement’ was the invitation to teach a course in William and Mary’s Christopher Wren Association’s courses “for life-long learning.” Partnering with two colleagues in Williamsburg—one was director of Olde Towne Medical Center, Judy Knudson, and the other a physician who taught at Yale Medical School for over 20 years, Dr. John Marsh. Our focus was essentially to discuss the issues and advocate for comprehensive health care reform. We felt the nation needed to move toward a “single payer” method of health care reimbursement. We were extremely fortunate to have Neurologist Dr. Thomas Pellegrino of Eastern Virginia Med School join with us for the course for three years. His presentations with us were a wonderful example of a practitioner who combined his understanding of patient advocacy with powerful analyses of health care costs, policies and procedures in very helpful and compelling ways. We were enriched by his wisdom and his willingness to teach with us. Those in our classes were quite responsive. Unfortunately, due to his untimely death, we did not continue to repeat our efforts. His father, Edmund Pellegrino, 92, died in June 2013.

This journey in higher and medical education ministries made possible introductions to many outstanding faculty, scholars and students. In this journey, I found religious and faith perspectives operative in some of the most difficult and painful moments in the lives of patients and families. The privilege of being allowed to engage in the paths that emerged was one for which I shall always share enormous gratitude. Thanks be to God.

[1] Thomas Carson, in Health and Human Values: A Ministry of Theological Inquiry and Moral Discourse by Verlyn l. Barker, p 142, United Ministries in Education, 1987.

[2] Albert Keller was pastor of Circular Church in Charleston, S.C. He was also Associate Professor of Ethics in the Department of Family Medicine at Medical University of South Carolina. He was active in SHHV and wrote articles on healthcare, healing, and bioethics issues as they unfolded in those years.  He recently retired and still lives in Charleston.

[3] From the Preface of the statement on “Health Care: Perspective on the Church’s Responsibility, “General Assembly, Presbyterian Church U.S. (1976).

[4] Thomas F. Mainor, A Biblical and Theological Basis for the Church’s Health Ministries, in Walter Wiest, Editor, Health Care and Its Costs: A Challenge to the Church, University Press of America © 1988, p.226.

[5] Leo Sandon, Christian Century, February 7-14, 1979, p.128

The Work of the Spirit by Phil Harder


The Work of the Spirit

By Phil Harder


One of the least understood (and sometimes most difficult to justify in a campus ministry report to the sponsoring churches) aspects of our work is how we campus ministers weave our strands of ministry by walking and listening—yes and sometimes responding.  This style of ministry takes patience, persistence and a faith in the work of the Holy Spirit.

During one of those memorable walk and talk moments with a faculty member, whom I have known with growing trust and mutual respect, I received a “pregnant question” that has enlivened my ministry for well over three years.  This non-churched and alienated United Methodist, an African scholar and chair of our University Black Studies Department, had just returned from doing research on the West African migration in the Caribbean Islands before and after the colonization period.  The key to open up fresh knowledge about this important “lost” cultural artifact was revealed hidden in the spiritual richness of the old Aftrican religion practices still in today’s Caribbean cities and country sides.  After this friend-professor participated in one of these religious services—highly ecstatic and spiritualized—her research took on new meaning and insight.  In telling this story, her concluding remark and question to me was, “I can no longer do my scholarly research without including the place of spirituality in my search for the truth, and I wonder if there are any other faculty in this University who feel the same way?”

On a practical level this conversation resulted in finding out who those other faculty are who are integrating spirituality and scholarship; and in a more fundamental sense, the topic has led to challenge the entire epistimology and narrow ways of knowing at our University.  Under the rubric of “Expanding the Boundaries of Knowledge,” the Center for Academic Excellence and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, along with Campus Ministry, has hosted a whole series of speakers, panels, in-house discussions on the subject.  Douglas Sloan and Parker Palmer have been invited scholars to highlight the importance of this quest.  Conclusion:  nothing short of metanoia in our thinking is required for real personal and social change.


This was written in March, 1998 for another NCMA publication.

By Phil Harder, retired 1998

Portland State University 1976-1998

Southern Oregon State College 1971-1976

Willamette University 1968-1971

President of NCMA 1995-96

Using the Church’s Empty Spaces for Theater and the Arts by Jerry Miller


Using the Church’s Empty Spaces for Theater and the Arts

By Jerry Miller

Ed. Note:  This is the personal Foreword to a forthcoming book about how to combine ministry, theater, and the arts by a former campus minister who did just that.  His story is so engaging and inspiring that I wanted to include it in our Sages collection.  It illustrates how our ministries on campus also nurture US and prepare us for further callings in other stages of our lives!

I have started theaters in four churches in the Chicago area from the ground up over the last 14 years with the help of others both within the church and in the community. Let me tell you a little bit about my journey and how I came to this place of passion .

When I was 13 years old I was the narrator for the Putnam Junior High School Christmas Pageant in Oklahoma City.  The only role available for me in the pageant, other than the narrator, was the role of a shepherd. I didn’t want to be just a shepherd in the pageant and besides most of the shepherds were playing poker backstage while the rest of the pageant was going on.  It didn’t seem that they were really into the story of Mary and Joseph and the babe in swaddling clothes in the manger.

I loved having the chance to narrate the play. I loved the spotlight shining on me and my ability to  move the audience emotionally as I read the words of Scripture and contemporary narrative.  It was magic.  I was home. Everybody told me how wonderful I was.  My mom said, “When people tell you how wonderful you are just tell them that it is a gift that God gave you.”  And I thought to myself, “I worked really hard on this; why should I tell them that?” Even then my ego was a little inflated. But my mom was right. It was a gift.

My dad didn’t like the idea of my being an actor. He wanted me to become a minister because acting was “sissy” stuff but my mom liked the idea of me being in theater, and she chauffeured me to all my acting events.

In deference to my dad, I chose the ministry although that was not the only reason.  The church had nurtured me and loved me as a young person. I was involved with regional youth events and camps. I was elected to youth leadership positions in the Disciples of Christ Church in Oklahoma and was encouraged and mentored to enter the ministry. And the church also nurtured me to use my gift of acting   Dr. Ralph Stone and Reverend Royce Makin of the Disciples of Christ denomination created opportunities for me to perform in the plays that they had written for Crown Heights Christian Church in Oklahoma City, as well as at regional events for Disciples of Christ Churches both within and without the state. So it was the church that enabled me to use my gifts of ministry and acting.  And it was also a minister in the church who literally saved my life.

I grew up as a young gay man in the ’60s in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma– a difficult experience. At school I was told by peers who were not in my church group or theater group, that to be gay was a sin, that it was wrong, and that God didn’t make “queers.”  I was beaten up. I was yelled at. I was rejected by the majority of my peers at school. This was a painful journey and I contemplated suicide at the age of 15.  But I found solace in the church and on the stage.  From the church, I learned in Vacation Bible School that “Jesus loved me and all the little children of the world.”   It was a youth minister who encouraged me to continue my journey even when I wanted to end it all.  I am eternally grateful for the unconditional love of Reverend Ken Compton. In theater I found an inclusive community. I felt safe with these adventurous and talented people. They enjoyed acting as much as I did. I set a goal to win the Drama Award in both junior high and high school, and I did!

I received my undergraduate degree from Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, a small private religious university funded by the Disciples of Christ. I loved Phillips, where I was included and had great fun being a member of the Varsity Fraternity, serving as Vice-President of the Phillips Student Senate and parliamentarian for the Oklahoma State Student Senate and as a dorm counselor. I was exposed to a larger world by later living in a large city as compared to the small town of Enid, but I will always be grateful to Phillips because it offered me many opportunities for leadership; I was also able to take a study trip to Europe and visit nine countries on a trip led by Dr. Robert Simpson, my philosophy professor who made me fall in love with philosophy.

After graduating in 1967, I attended Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  My friend Lance Roberds encouraged me to attend Perkins rather than continue my graduate education in Theology at Phillips because he felt that Dallas would be a larger arena for coming into contact with people at the forefront of social justice.

My roommate at Perkins served as the Student Body President. The Dean of Perkins at the time asked my roommate to let him know if there were any “gay” students as he would “like to weed them out.” So I was very closeted during my time in Theology School, but I am happy to say that my roommate friend is now a Bishop in the United Methodist Church and very supportive of my journey.  Perkins School of Theology, despite the homophobia of the Dean, was great in instructing me about injustice and oppression. The Vietnam War was going on at the time and we were taught that it was not a “Just War.” I participated in rallies against the war, and I remember seeing members of the CIA taking photos of people in the crowd.

I learned about racial injustice when I picketed a “Whites Only” washateria across from the S.M.U. campus. I was asked by an undergraduate student who had initiated and led the picket for several months to continue as the leader because  he had grown weary, and his studies were suffering due to the time required of him. Several Perkins professors and theology students joined me in the picket, and eventually  there was a resolution with the owner of the washeteria and the sign was taken down.  But I saw first hand the hate directed at people of color.  The (? Dallas?) police would arrest us unless we kept moving and had $5.00 in our pocket; the American Nazi party came out in their uniforms and threatened us; many Southern Methodist undergraduates would drive by and yell “N…….Lover;” and the owner placed a sprinkler hose outside so our shoes and pants would get wet during the winter. But because we picketed and persisted in dialogue with the owner, the sign finally came down.

I went to my first gay bar on a field trip at Perkins designed to desensitize me to the gay population in Dallas and how to minister to them. There, I  talked to our “tour” guide  who had a friend who was 16 and suicidal and asked me to visit with him.  I was sent into a poorer, all black section of Dallas to survey people about their medical needs.  The experience of being the only “white” person in the neighborhood was eye opening.  My time in Dallas expanded my experience with different cultures, political issues, and the arts.

After Perkins I served as Director of The Corner at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. The Corner was a community arts and recreation center that had an afterschool program for “latch key” youth, a summer day camp program,  and a variety of activities for all ages. The program also hosted Emeritus Educational and Arts courses for Older Adults.  Unfortunately, all the creative emerging ministries at Highland Park UMC were disbanded because the church was suffering budget deficit, but I will always be grateful to Reverend Bill Dickinson, the pastor who was so supportive of creative ministries prior to his death.

After my service at Highland Park United Methodist Church, I served as Minister of Education at First Christian Church in Denton, Texas, where I produced my first play with the youth group. We grew a youth choir that started with four people and, with the help of our Youth Choir Director, expanded to 50 youth.

Back in Dallas, I worked as a campus minister for the Greater Dallas Community of Churches Community College Ministry, where I had the opportunity to meet such people as Robert Short, the author of the Gospel According Peanuts, and Maggie Kuhn who started the Gray Panthers to fight against ageism in all its forms.  Maggie Kuhn taught me that there are no limits due to age. Kuhn was an outstanding advocate for older adults, and I was later inspired by her to produce a play on successful aging called Don’t Wait Up for Me at Lincoln Square Arts Center in Chicago.

Maggie also inspired me to write a course with twenty of my older adult friends at the Mesquite Senior Center in Denton, Texas entitled “Successful Aging.” It was the only course in the 1970’s written and taught by older adults. This course was recognized by the National Science Foundation, and I was invited to attend a conference on “Society and the Senior Citizen” with other persons on the forefront of addressing the needs of seniors in Higher Education.

Under the leadership of Reverend Dr. Betsy Alden at GDCCC, I was able to create a workshop and course book on Successful Aging,   an Emeritus Chorus and Senior Citizen Camp, and, inspired by the model created by Noel Buell in California, I started an Emeritus Institute for seniors on three of the campuses of the Dallas Community Colleges. This was an innovative concept at the time—an “idea whose time had come,” and I was at the forefront of this movement to develop Lifelong Learning opportunities. Seniors could take community college courses from the community service division for only $5.00, so  I hired the teachers and created a variety of courses, including Computers, How to Create Your Own Cable TV Show, Book Studies, and Basic Acting. We also published a book containing the “oral histories” of some of these students to give to their families.

Through the Praxis Project that was part of our ministry on campus, we placed undergraduate students as volunteers in over 50 social service agencies in Dallas, and many of them had a chance to work with the older population in senior citizen centers and nursing homes  This service-learning model, in which student service was part of their academic coursework, was replicated on many other campuses across the country.

After serving 8 years for the Greater Dallas Community of Churches Community College Ministry, I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to work in an Antique Shop and Art Gallery that my mother had opened. We carried the works of a variety of artists including my older brother Willis and my sister Sallie. We also sold Indian jewelry made by our friends from the Pueblos, and I worked for five dollars an hour in my mother’s shop. I lived with my mom, and when I wasn’t working in the shop I pursued my acting career, performing in several productions of Santa Fe’s Shakespeare in the Park. I took acting classes from Nicholas Ballas,  secured a talent agent, and earned my Screen Actor’s Guild Card. I acted in a lot of plays in Santa Fe but I had done about all I could do with my acting career there.

At the age of 50, I made a big move–I decided to go back to school to obtain my MFA in acting. To be considered for a professional acting school at the time you had to audition for the University Regional Theatre Audition Committee before two judges. My regional audition was at the University of Arizona, and the two judges had to agree that you had talent in order for you to be passed on to the national auditions.  At the regional audition, I performed two monologues and sang a song. The audition site had a tape recorder for us to use, but there was something wrong with the volume control on the tape recorder, and I could not hear the music as I sang. The two judges passed me on to the national audition but told me, “Please do not sing at the next audition.”  Luckily, I can now sing in musicals after taking voice classes. And I am very thankful for my current vocal coach, Marc Embree at DePaul University in Chicago.

The national audition was in Long Beach, California. I remember students some 30 years younger than I was asking me if I was a judge or professor. I informed them that I was auditioning to attend graduate school as a student.  I felt quite comfortable auditioning for graduate school as an older adult.  As I learned from Maggie Kuhn “There are no limits. Use It or Lose It.”  Here, there were about twenty judges from various professional schools of acting in the United States.  I was nervous, to say the least. I did my best and I did not sing. The auditions were in the morning, and in the afternoon, each person who had auditioned was handed an envelope with a list of the schools that wanted to interview you as possible MFA candidates. I was thrilled to be invited for interviews by five schools .

It is very hard to get into a professional school of acting for a graduate degree.  Most schools take five to ten students per year. Some graduate schools take a lot more than ten and tell the students that they will get scholarships in their second year but then cut many from the program after the first year. It seems unfair but this is the way it is.  After the interviews in Long Beach, I was extended an invitation by the University of South Carolina to be a graduate MFA (Master of Fine Arts in Acting) candidate. Attending a professional acting school was something I had always wanted to do.  I was honoring a lifelong love.

The MFA program at the University of South Carolina is a three-year program– two years taking classes, teaching classes to undergraduates in acting and public speaking, and performing in main stage productions; then the third year is an internship. My internship was at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I was the first MFA acting candidate from the University of South Carolina to intern (most students interned at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.),  and being there was a tremendous experience.  It is a “state of the art theater” with incredible productions and a large subscribership. The theatre can seat up to 4,086 people. I understudied most of the major male roles of the season and performed small roles in the productions. . I had the opportunity to meet and work with Actors Equity Union actors from all over United States and even a director from Russia who directed his adaptation of The Gambler, a short novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky reflecting on his own addiction to Roulette. Included in the roles I understudied, were the father in Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello and the role of the father, the tenant farmer Phil Hogan, in Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill.

After my internship in Milwaukee, I moved to Chicago. I had acquired my union cards in both the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and  I worked as an Equity actor quite a bit the first two years in Chicago, but acting does not pay  well so I decided to enter the corporate world, working as a trainer for Arthur Anderson. (But I continued to perform in local Chicago Theaters in the Evening). I worked at Arthur Andersen for almost five years when the firm was indicted in June of 2002 for obstruction of justice for shredding documents pertaining to its audit of Enron. The indictment put 28,000 people out of work in the United States and 85,000 people living outside of the US.  The Supreme Court removed the indictment in May of 2005 on the basis of the jury not being given clear instructions on what it was to decide.

It has been said that God does not shut one door without opening another one. Someone also said that the journey in the hallways leading to the next door can be difficult. But as a result of Arthur Anderson closing its doors, I I made some interesting detours along my journey! I generated income by cleaning houses, being a personal assistant to a doctor friend, and serving as a part-time executive assistant. I was very poor.

I started attending Berry Memorial United Methodist Church in Chicago– just a couple of blocks away from where I lived. I served on several committees at the church and  suggested to the pastor, Reverend Sherry Lowly, who was quite receptive, that we do a play. The play was Mass Appeal by Bill C. Davis. The play has two characters, Mark, a bisexual seminarian, and Father Farley, an alcoholic Catholic Priest. It is a story of a friendship that occurs even though Mark and Father Farley are at the opposite ends of the theological spectrum and demonstrates how religious institutions can be oppressive to an individual’s life and journey.  I have initiated this play at three theaters that I have started.

After the play in 2001 a Fine Arts Committee was formed to create a season of plays at Berry Memorial UMC, and Dr. Marti Scott, who was the District Superintendent of the Northwestern District of the United Methodist Church at that time, appointed me as a part-time Minister of Fine Arts with Bishop Joe Sprague’s endorsement. A group of talented artists within and without the church formed a Fine Arts Committee at Berry and we established the Lincoln Square Arts Center,  including Beast on the Moon, Godspell, The Gin Game, The Normal Heart, David and Lisa, Angels in America, and Bang Bang You’re Dead. The Lincoln Square Arts Center continues to this day and, since 2001, has produced nearly 30 plays.

Since that first theater was established, I have created three other theaters in United Methodist Churches in cooperation with others from both within and outside the church. I served as Artistic Director/Minister of Fine Arts at the James Downing Theatre at Edison Park United Methodist Church in Chicago, Passion Theatre at Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church in Oak Park and am currently working with Edge Theatre at Epworth United Methodist Church in Chicago. I owe a great deal of gratitude to. Reverend Dr. Marti Scott who placed me in three of these positions of ministry.  Had it not been for her there would be no story to tell.

As a result of all these experiences, I believe that overcoming oppression and rejection to arrive at a place of self -love has made me more sensitive to issues of social justice.  And I believe that theater, in conjunction with the church, can address social justice issues in an extremely significant way–  not just for LGBTQ people but for oppression wherever it occurs.

Today I am an active actor, director, writer, grant writer, producer and consultant to churches on doing theater in their empty spaces.   I retired from full-time ministry in October of 2012 but continue to perform, write and produce arts events for churches. The church has encouraged me to fight for justice for those living on the margins–to be the Body of Christ for the world.

The theatre has demonstrated inclusiveness, creativity, and communicating through the art form. Addressing social justice issues through theatre in the church has been and continues to be my passion, and my hope is that this book inspires and encourages you to do theater in your church’s “empty spaces” for social justice.

Empty Space:  Creating a Theater in Your Church, Step by Step by Jerry Miller will be published by Amazon in October, 2014.  If you would like to be in touch with Jerry, you can reach him at gaev5@yahoo.com or 773-426-1168.



BACKING INTO A CALLING– and the Ripple Effect! by Susan Yarrow Morris

BACKING INTO A CALLING and the ripple effect!

It was a vibrant time in the pioneering ecumenical effort known as Campus Christian Ministry at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington in the early 1970’s, much as it was on other U.S. campuses of both private and state colleges and universities.  On one hand, many UW students, faculty and staff were questioning “the way it’s always been done” in their particular academic and administrative settings, challenging cultural norms related to civic and community life, and taking actions responding to peace and justice issues in local communities and in the world.   On the other hand, sizeable numbers of the UW community clung to traditions (sororities, fraternities, athletic teams, etc., for example) common to campus life.  In this context, the ecumenical (eight Protestant denominations and Roman Catholic) staff was pulled together, supported by various denominational and ecumenical sources and UMHE (United Ministries in Higher Education) and charged with “doing ministry” at the UW in the late 60’s, early 70’s.

In 1972, I was invited (i.e., “called”) to join the CCM staff to design and direct a Marriage Preparation program which would reflect the ecumenical spirit of the ministry and yet honor denominational premarital particularities, an idea which had been identified as appropriate for campus ministry, by its staff and Board.  I was to be a (very!) part time staff person funded with a small stipend.  My prior experience, post B.A. in Social Work and Religion, had been in various church, agency, and health care settings.  This invitation to envision and develop such a program/ministry lit a vocational and spiritual spark for me.  I knew and respected a few of the staff members already, and was eager to be a part of this unique venture.  And so I began backing into ministry!

After consulting with CCM staff and area clergy, I designed and directed an ecumenical Marriage Prep program which became one of CCM’s many core ministries, building bridges between local parishes, communities, and CCM.  Serving over 125 couples a year in weekend or weeknight workshops, these were the primary components of the Marriage Preparation program during my 16 years on the staff (1972-1988):

~an articulated and relevant covenant theology at the heart of the process and content of the workshops, leaving specific denominational doctrines to be conveyed by the officiating pastors to couples.  Our task was to help couples sense a connection between God’s covenant with humankind and all creation and our response to live in embodied covenant love with one another.

~ an MP faculty of  40-50 persons from many denominations and faith traditions – couples and singles, clergy and lay – who became in many ways a covenant community, volunteering to lead workshops as authentic (not perfect!) human beings, to participate in ongoing continuing education events, to contribute to workshop design and content, and to explore in their personal and professional lives what it means to live in healthy, life-giving covenantal relationship with another.

~ financial, organizational and spiritual support from all participating Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic churches in the area.

~ a Participant  Couple’s Workbook of over 125 pages of exercises, resources and handouts designed for use with couples in the workshop process; these were gathered (and refined for use in the MP program) from experts in marriage and family life, theological studies, and other social and behavioral sciences, as well as my own and MP faculty members’ ongoing ideas.

~development, in the mid 80’s, of a Committed Relationship Preparation program for same gender couples, in which I invited several lgbt couples from different denominations to help rewrite all the MP materials to make them appropriate for use in such workshops, as well as adding topics unique to lgbt couples.  These couples were then trained to lead the CR workshops.  We held about two such weekend workshops a year in those years before I left CCM.  Sadly, there was little staff energy to continue that piece of the program after 1988, even though the MP program continued under new and creative leadership.  Once again, CCM was a pioneer, enabling and supporting this unique CRPrep program.  (Note:  Through the years, all the language used in exercises and resources for all the workshops became inclusive, so the same materials could be used.) (Note:  With the blessing of the UCC, I was honored to officiate in 1985 for a same gender couple’s Covenant Service, and have been privileged to witness many more in the years since.  With the passage of the Marriage Equality law in Washington state last year, many of those couples have returned to celebrate their covenants anew, as well as to marvel at the working of the Holy Spirit in the unexpected, justice making context of an election process!)

~Several participant couple follow up support programs were offered over the years, providing topical marriage enrichment gatherings, using various formats.  As well, pages of local resources and bibliographies and referral lists were provided participant couples during the workshops.

Over the years, this model for an ecumenical Marriage Preparation program was used in several other campus ministry settings in Washington; local leaders were trained and materials shared. As word of the program’s integrity and popularity spread, it became a resource not only for the UW community but for churches and pastors throughout our state and some colleagues were glad to use the MP/CR model in their parish and campus settings in other states.  I was asked to present the model, process and materials in several national and local marriage and family life conferences and agencies.  Our written materials were about to be published when Pilgrim Press went through some major bureaucratic changes, and the whole project was suspended and never revisited.

Characteristics which were most appealing and unique for this particular Marriage Preparation and Committed Relationship program model were:

~covenant theology basis for all topics (communications, roles and expectations, family of origin, intimacy, etc.),

~participatory workshop style,

~leadership community,

~workshop process (using a variety of approaches to topics),

~high value on creating a safe and trusting ecumenical setting for couples to reflect, discuss and learn;

~ inclusion of domestic violence (awareness and prevention and strategies for responding) in the topics addressed,

~its viability as a truly ecumenical ministry.

As this program and its “ripples” became the primary focus of my work at CCM and I interfaced more and more with staff colleagues and area clergy, I was invited to take on other responsibilities….preaching and speaking at the CCM’s worship services and local churches, joining colleagues to teach or lead classes, workshops or retreats in Feminist Theology, Alternative Living Arrangements (my family and two other families were living in a covenantal community on an island farm and many were intrigued with this topic – it was the 70’s, after all!), weekly Bible text study, theology of human sexuality (based on James B. Nelson’s EMBODIMENT and his consultation with us for many years) and, with David Royer, my UCC colleague at CCM, teaching courses in LIFEwork Planning with training from Dick Bolles (former campus pastor himself!)  The Vocations Working Group of the UCC, under Verlyn Barker’s guidance, was spawned from this effort and similar programs offered by colleagues around the country.

I began taking courses and seminars whenever possible in theological studies, as I “backed into” my calling.  Vancouver School of Theology in Vancouver, BC and Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA were the closest seminaries for my academic needs at the time.  It was clear that my commitment to my family and living community on Whidbey Island mitigated against leaving the area for three years to complete a B.D. or M.Div. To augment my local studies (at Seattle University’s Jesuit seminary, and independent work with theologians in the Seattle area), I attended summer sessions for several years at PSR and VST and the Institute for Campus Ministry at Valparaiso University.  I was given standing in the UCC as a Licensed Minister to serve at CCM in 1982, and was blessed for this call in a special worship service at CCM, surrounded by my colleagues of many traditions, a humbling and joyful time.

My own journey to ordained ministry continued when I chose to leave CCM in 1988 to return to local parish ministry, serving two Seattle UCC churches until my retirement.  Continued studies and a uniquely designed process led to my ordination in 1994 at Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC, in Seattle, where I was serving. I retired in 2004 after serving as Marriage Minister and Associate Pastor at Fauntleroy Church, UCC, in Seattle for eight years.  In both those churches, I continued to lead Marriage Prep, Marriage Enrichment and family life workshops and classes as part of my ministry….a great joy!  I surely believe that my incredibly rich CCM experience serving within a staff of ecumenical colleagues committed to mutual support, shared vision, and theological integrity was a seminal factor in my choice to serve in churches with multiple staff configurations for the rest of my ministry.

The moment I retired (!), I was asked by the FaithTrust Institute (Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, Founder and Director), to write a book to help pastors feel skilled and confident addressing domestic violence in their premarital counseling.  OPENING THE DOOR: A Pastor’s Guide to Addressing Domestic Violence in Premarital Counseling was published by the FaithTrust Institute in 2006.  It includes theological underpinnings as well as specific approaches to the topic of domestic violence within workshop or individual premarital counseling sessions, several copy-ready handouts, and an appendix of related articles and resources.  It is being used, I understand, in a variety of pastoral settings, including campus ministry and chaplaincy, local parishes and seminaries.  Amazing ripples from a small program begun in 1973 in the context of campus ministry!  (to order: http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org)

Residing with my husband in a lively retirement community near Olympia, Washington since 2009, I’m occasionally invited to provide a pastoral presence for persons and couples in this community and in our local UCC/Presbyterian church.  As I use some of the same premarital resources we designed in 1975 with engaged couples in their 80’s and 90’s, I smile with deep gratitude to God and former colleagues who nudged/called me into campus ministry long ago!


Rev. Susan Yarrow Morris

August 24, 2014

My Life Work by Delton Pickering

My Life Work 1961-2003      by Delton Pickering

From my first appointment in ministry as an associate pastor at a UMC church in Metarie, Louisiana, throughout my career in higher education and ministry, on through to my retirement from pastoring a church on the southern fringe of California’s San Fernando Valley, faith and social justice have been inextricably linked.

1960-1961    Associate Pastor, Munholland Memorial United Methodist Church (UMC), Metarie, LA

1960 was the year that public schools in New Orleans were integrated.  They picked on elementary school to start the process, and the only white person who chose to keep his child in the “integrated” school was my friend Andy Foreman, Pastor a UMC in the French Quarter on Rampart Street.  He and his wife got a great dal of attention, along with death threats, etc.  So several of us took turns driving him and his daughter to and from school and putting the family up in our homes.  Each day we would have to run the gamut of rock-tossing, spitting white parents, often with infants in their arms, lining the street near the entrance to the school.  It eventually died down, but my involvement got me the reputation of a “communist” and other unmentionables.  Even the secretary at my church referred to me a a “card-carrying member of the Communist Party.”  However, most of the UMC hierarchy was on Andy’s side, so I was still considered an “up and coming” young minister.

1961-1971   Director of the Wesley Foundation (UMC Campus Ministry) at Louisianan State University (LSU), Baton Rouge, LA

Toward the end of my year at Munholland Memorial UMC in Metarie, my bishop asked me if I would consider going to LSU as Campus Minister.  In the back of my mind in those days it was only a matter of time before I went back to graduate school for a doctorate, with the aim of teaching religion on the college level; so a year of two on a college campus didn’t seem so bad.  But I got roped in in at least two ways: (1) I genuinely liked the work, and (2) I inherited a building program for a new UMC Student Center (Wesley Foundation).  The ministry was then located in a simple, frame Army surplus building just behind fraternity row, and the expectation was that I would raise funds and design and erect a new building.  This I accomplished in about five years, and I stayed on to enjoy five more.  However, social justice issues were calling, especially on a big campus like LSU in Baton Rouge (the largest in the state).

First there was the free speech movement (remember Berkeley and Columbia?).  The Louisiana legislature passed a law forbidding any Communist or Marxist speaker on a public college campus, under threat of the withdrawal of state funds.  A group of students banded together on the grounds of academic freedom, and they asked me to be their advisor.  We invited the First Secretary of the Soviet delegation to the United Nations to come and speak at LSU.  He accepted, and it made the local press big time.

At first, LSU officials agreed that this ambassador could speak in the LSU Union; but under political pressure, they changed their minds and cancelled the speech.  We decided to hold the event off campus, and it got a great deal of attention — and the university got a black eye for reneging on its agreement.  We kept pressuring the university with other “offensive” speakers and, eventually, they caved in, and the issue was settled in the way you would expect an institution devoted to academic freedom to settle it.  Needless to say, my reputation with conservatives was “in the toilet.”

Then came the Vietnam War era…  Somehow I got roped into being the regional treasurer for the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, and our Wesley Foundation students offered the committee meeting space in our new building.  I was not alone among the college chaplains in that involvement: Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian chaplains were also involved.  We had a very successful Vietnam Moratorium Day on campus with thousands in attendance and nationally known speakers.  But best of all, we had no violence, no burning buildings, and no arrests.  Many said that was because of the close involvement of the campus ministers.

In the spring of 1971 I was selected to be the Louisiana Delegate to a Citizens Conference on Ending the Way in Indochina.  There was one delegate from each state.  We had a three day briefing at the United Nations and then flew to Paris for meetings with all of the parties to the Paris Peace Talks.  The delegate from Colorado was the folk singer Judy Collins.  We sat together on the plane.  Interestingly enough, we observed that our every move in Paris was being filmed openly, and two years later every one of us was audited by the IRS.  Upon returning to Baton Rouge, I accepted a lot of speaking engagements calling for the end of the war.  Again, the conservatives were outraged.

At that time, I was also getting involved in civil liberties issues, having joined the Baton Rouge Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  A very influential Methodist layman (Vice President of the Ethyl Corporation) wrote to my bishop, complaining of my activities.  He suggested that if I really wanted to have an “influence for good” on the campus, I should protest the films that were being shown at the Varsity Theater, near the gates of the campus.  The theater had late night showings of Russ Meyer-type films (very soft porn).  What this distinguished gentleman didn’t know was that every film shown at the Varsity had first received the imprimatur of three of us  chaplains.  The owner of the Varsity invited the three of us, along with an English professor, to preview every movie before he booked it, so that we could pass judgment on whether or not the movie had any “redeeming social value” (the then-current Supreme Court of the United States’ standard as to whether or not material was pornographic).  Fortunately, I don’t think this activity made into the bishop’s file!

I was involved in numerous other activities during my tenure at LSU, but the most disturbing to UMC officials was my allowing a Black student group, which had been accused of trying to assassinate the Mayor of Baton Rouge, to meet in the Wesley Foundation building.  I personally knew most of the students involved and knew that the charges were bogus; but since the Mayor was a member of a local UMC, my involvement (even just the use of a room for meeting) was anathema to the bishop.  He called me in for a consultation and gave me a year to find another position.  That’s how I wound up leaving LSU and Louisiana, my home state, in June 1971.  By the way, the charges against the Black students were dismissed after being shown to be the result of perjured statements by racist Deputy Sheriffs of Baton Rouge Parish.

I was blessed with a very cooperative governing board of the Wesley Foundation at LSU.  They genuinely believed that a campus minister’s work would be enhanced by experiences abroad.  So they allowed me to take three summers off for that purpose:

1964– I directed a student project in a rural community of the State of Puebla, Mexico.  I was accompanied by 15 students, both undergraduate and graduate.  We lived in extremely primitive conditions.  For example, our quarters had to be fumigated weekly for tarantulas, and our alarm clock each morning was a burro that stuck his head through an open window and brayed over us.  We had no running water, of course, and upon arrival had to build our only toilet.  Our shower was improvised with a barrel on the roof that we filled each morning after dropping buckets into a mountain trench for water.  We heated the water by burning corn husks.  All in all, however, it was an enlightening experience.  We grew close to the folks in the small village, and at the end of the summer we had to endure 15 mole (a dark gravy) banquets in the last week or so.

1968–  I was supposed to go to South Africa at the invitation of that country’s University Christian Movement, along with a group of other campus ministers.  We had an orientation at the UN in New York City; but in those days of apartheid, the South African government refused to give us visas.  So, after waiting a couple of weeks past our original departure date, we gave up.  The week-long UN orientation, however, raised my consciousness considerably about what was going on in South Africa.  Interestingly, the South Africa University Christian Movement became a banned organization that summer; so we would have been kicked out of the country, anyway.

Since I already had the summer off, I decided to do what I had always wanted to do and take a grand tour of Europe.  It was grand, if you count using my Eurailpass to sleep on trains during overnight trips to avoid hotel or hostel expenses that I couldn’t afford.  I visited almost all of the Western European countries that way, including my favorite city, West Berlin.  I happened to be in West Germany when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia.  Many Czech students fled to West Germany.  Most of them spoke English, not German, so I volunteered to help resettle them.  That’s how I spent my last couple of weeks in Europe.

1969–  I was asked to direct a student study tour to Japan, Korea, and India.  One of the highlights of that trip was a two hour audience with Prime Minister Indira Ghandi in India.  She was very gracious to our group and extended our visit by an hour and half beyond our scheduled time.  We were in Seoul, Korea, when the United States landed a man on the moon.  I vividly remember watching the landing on a huge screen in a public square with thousands of others.

1971-1976  Director of the Wesley Foundation at Memphis State University (MSU), Memphis, TN

       Of all the places I’ve lived and served, Memphis was probably the least satisfactory and most disappointing.  For one thing, I went there under the false pretenses of the campus ministry leadership.  Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) was a large, urban university of some 30,000 students, 90 percent of whom were commuters.  At that time in my life, I was interested in pioneering what I called “urban campus ministry,” by which I meant tapping the resources of both the church and the university in behalf of human needs in the urban community.  So the situation at MSU promised to be a good fit.  When I was invited to two interviews with the governing board of the MSU Wesley Foundation, I made my interest very clear.  The board, in turn, seemed excited about my ideas and offered me the job, even though a local UMC pastor had also been interviewed and was thought by some to be a “shoo-in” for the position.

Not long after I arrived, the man on the board most responsible for advocating for my hiring left to become president of another college.  He was succeeded on the board by a somewhat conservative law professor who did not buy into my vision of campus ministry.  Furthermore, I found out later that the UMC Conference Committee that evaluated the campus ministry program was upset that an “outsider” had been hired instead of the local pastor.  Well, you can see where this was going… I had several strikes against me from the early days of my tenure at MSU.  Despite all of that, I was able to accomplish some innovative and useful programs while in Memphis, such as,

The development of a Women’s Center I applied to the national UMC for funding of a two year intern and was assigned a very bright, articulate and energetic young woman who had just graduated from the University of Virginia.  In the meantime, a group of professional women in Memphis had been working on the concept of a women’s center which would advocate for the needs of women throughout the city.  However, they had no funds for staffing and no place for housing their center.  Since my new intern was a strong feminist, with her approval, I offered to allow her to spend half of her time to staff the women’s center.  I also arranged for a centrally located UMC to donate space for offices and a meeting room.  It all worked out very well.  The center got off the ground, developed some good programs (including feminist art shows), and eventually had enough resources to hire its own staff.

Death and Dying in the Curriculum of the University The Roman Catholic chaplain and I saw a need for a course on Death and Dying in the MSU curriculum.  Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book, “On Death and Dying,” was currently a bestseller, and the time seemed ripe.  We approached MSU requesting that we be allowed to organize such a course, and the university agreed that we could do it in the continuing education division.  We thought we’d have around 15-20 students, but the first night of class over 200 showed up!  We had to move the class from a seminar room to an auditorium.  We had invited a number of guest lecturers, including a local physician who had authored the American Medical Association’s (AMA) definition of “brain death,” a nurse practitioner who had spent her career in hospice care, lawyers, theologians, and social workers, among others.  The course was a great success and so popular that the university picked it up for its regular, credited curriculum in the next academic year.

Veterans Advocacy Project While I had been a vociferous opponent of the Vietnam War, I also developed a concern for the plight of Vietnam veterans.  I conceived the idea of a Veterans Advocacy Project for Memphis.  I hosted a luncheon in our Wesley Foundation building and invited all of the veterans affairs staffers from the various campuses in the metropolitan area, along with representatives from the Mayor’s office, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Chamber of Commerce, etc.  At the initial meeting, we discovered that those folks had never met together before and seldom communicated with each other.  Yet, they all worked to serve military service veterans.  The group decided to continue to meet and to cooperate on several projects.  One project was the development of a discharge upgrade program.  We trained volunteers to be counselors in assisting vets to have their other-than-honorable discharges upgraded to honorable, thereby making them eligible for medical and educational benefits from the U.S. government.  The project was still going when I left Memphis.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) I was a member of the board of the local ACLU that held its monthly meetings in the Wesley Foundation building.  Eventually, I was elected President.  By tradition, since we had no staff, the ACLU telephone was located in the office of the President.  I had the phone installed on my desk so that I — and I alone — would answer it.  You cannot imagine the forlorn calls I received, most of which the ACLU could not respond to since the complaint did not involve any action by the government.  Eventually, I was elected President of the Tennessee State ACLU, also.  One of my first actions in that role was to get the state board to approve moving their office from Knoxville to Memphis, the state’s largest city.  We hired our first full time Executive Director (a young man who had been a parole officer and knew  the legal system firsthand) and set up an office in a downtown high-rise near the court houses.  We had a battery of volunteer lawyers across the state, so we were able to respond to genuine and egregious concerns in effective ways.  Needless to say, my heavy involvement in an organization that favored abortion rights, opposed religious education in public schools, and opposed reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” at government-sponsored events, did not stand me in the good graces of the church.

The coup de grace came when I attended a national ACLU board meeting in New York City where the ACLU became the first national organization to call for the Impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon.  I returned to Memphis on a Saturday to fulfill a long-standing Sunday morning commitment to speak at the Memphis Unitarian Fellowship, which just happened to rent meeting space in the Wesley Foundation.  I had planned to be very low key about the call for Nixon’s Impeachment, knowing how the idea would play in conservative Memphis.  But when I arrived for my engagement, the TV cameras were already in place.  I had no choice but to explain to the public why the ACLU had taken its action.  This, of course, resulted in many calls and letters to church officials asking why the UMC was calling for the Impeachment of a great President, and why, oh why, was a non-Christian group being allowed to meet in the Methodist Student Center at MSU?  I saw the “handwriting on the wall,” and at the next meeting of our board, I submitted my resignation — before I could be fired.

I had no job when I resigned, so I requested and received a sabbatical leave from the ministry of the UMC.  About that time, the guy I had hired as ACLU Executive Director began suffering burn-out from his 12 hour long days on that job.  So I secured positions for both him and his wife at a UMC facility for youth offenders in Kentucky and took over from him as Acting Executive Director of the Tennessee State ACLU.  It was an interesting five months and provided me with a complete break from “church work.”

One of the most exciting things I did was the development of a project on Privacy in a Democratic Society that was funded by a grant from the Tennessee Committee on the Humanities.  It was a week long event held at a Presbyterian college campus, featuring a number of seminars and lectures by well-known persons in the field of privacy and related issues.  While the project was underway, word got out that the Memphis Police Dept. had been spying on citizens for political — not criminal — reasons.  It was revealed that the department had a whole room of files detailing their long-running spy program.  We were afraid that the glare of publicity might lead them to dispose of the files, so we got a federal court order mandating that they be secured.  Our chief lawyer rushed over to police headquarters with the court order, but it was too late.  They had torched all of the files the previous night.  The press was all over the story, and it resulted in a much bigger attendance at our event that we expected.  Ultimately, it resulted in the termination of the police chief and the failure of the mayor to get re-elected.

1976-1988   Executive Director, Ecumenical Campus Ministry (ECM), Baltimore, MD

In the fall of 1976 I got an invitation to apply for a campus ministry position in Baltimore with Ecumenical Campus Ministry, Inc., an organization that sponsored campus ministries in Maryland and Washington, D.C.  After interviews I was offered the position of Executive Director of ECM.  I moved to Baltimore the day after Jimmy Carter’s election as President in 1976.  ECM was supported by the United Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and United Church of Christ.  It was an interesting period in that I spent most of time reporting to and seeking funding from those judicatories.  After I’d been there a year, the United Methodists in the region (the Baltimore Conference) created a position that would give oversight to all of their campus ministries in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and a part of West Virginia.  The UMC asked me to write the job description for the new position, so I wrote the best I could muster, having no interest in the job for myself.  But the UMC bishop of the area decided that he wanted me to fill the job, and after a little arm-twisting, I accepted.  In actuality, I subsumed the ECM position into the new one, so that I became supervisor of both the UCM and ECM campus ministries, a position I held until mid-1988.

Working in the Mid-Atlantic region of the country was much less stressful for me than I had experienced in the South.  For one thing, church people in the area were much more liberal and progressive.  The more active one was in working for social justice, the better.  I continued my association with the ACLU, having become a member of the Maryland State ACLU Board of Directors, and later, a member of the National ACLU Development Council (many trips to NYC).  I also became President of my professional association, the National Campus Ministry Association, and chair of the UMC National Campus Ministry Committee (many trips to Nashville).  I served on the governing boards of two colleges, also (St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Baltimore and Morristown College in Tennessee, an historically Black college).  I chaired the Maryland Interfaith Legislative Committee (working to impact the State Assembly on behalf of human needs in the state).  And I was asked to design and teach a course on ministry in higher education at UMC related Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.  All in all I kept pretty busy during those years in Baltimore.

After the AIDS epidemic hit the nation, I became very involved in ministry with persons living with AIDS.  I was one of the founders of the AIDS Interfaith Network of Baltimore, the purpose of which was to enlighten church folks, in particular, and the public, in general, about the real nature of HIV/AIDS and to dispel superstitions, falsities, and other misconceptions prevalent at the time.  I also co-founded the AIDS Interfaith Housing Project that provided housing with dietician and nursing support for persons with AIDS, especially those who were far along in the disease.  Those efforts took a lot of my time, but my “bosses” were pleased that I was doing it.  So there was practically no flack.

After about ten years, the UMC in the Mid-Atlantic Area decided to redesign their regional staff.  As a result, the campus ministry position was eliminated, along with a number of others.  My choices were to accept an appointment to a parish or to find another job.  After so many years out of parish ministry, I wasn’t anxious to be sent to a church I knew nothing about; so I started searching.  Friends I had worked with in national campus ministry groups put my name in the hopper for a position supervising UMC campus ministries in the California-Pacific Conference that encompassed Southern California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariannas.  I got the job.

1988-2003     Council on Ministries of the California-Pacific Conference, UMC, Pasadena, CA

I moved to the Los Angeles area in early August, 1988, to be on the staff of UMC regional conference.  My focus was to be on campus ministry, but a number of other areas of ministry were added to my portfolio.  That went smoothly for a number of months until December, when the bishop decided to move my boss to another position.  That left the top staff position in the conference vacant, and I was urged to apply.  I did, and I was offered the position of Director of the Conference Council on Ministries — a role I filled for the next six years.  The Council included 16 in-house staff persons, plus about 25 out in the field.  So, personnel management quickly became one of my time-consuming tasks.  The other was travel.  Since our region included Southern California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Marianna Islands, my job called for me to attend meetings throughout the region (although, in truth, I only went to Hawaii every couple of months and to Guam and the Mariannas only once each).  Also, my position put me on a number of regional and national committees that required travel across the country.  It seemed like I was boarding a plane every other week or so — and sometimes, I was.

My social justice involvements had to be somewhat limited because of my hectic schedule.  I was elected President of the Southern California Ecumenical Council and served on the Board of Directors of the California Council of Churches.  Both groups focused on the needs of the poor and dispossessed and pressured governmental bodies to pass laws and regulations that would help, not harm, the poor, including immigrants.  (California had and has a huge immigrant population.)

The Northridge earthquake occurred while I was in Galveston, Texas, attending the annual meeting of the Association of Conference Council Directors (my peers in the UMC), of which I was President at the time.  Of course, I had to rush back, and I spent much of the rest of the year working on relief in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area and coordinating UMC efforts.

As is turned out, there was a six year term for my Council Director position.  So, at the end of it in 1995, not ready to retire and not wanting to pack up and move again (I loved living in Pasadena and still do), I allowed my name to be placed in consideration for a pastorate within commuting distance of my Pasadena home.  After rejecting several appointments, I accepted the offer of Sherman Oaks UMC.  Sherman Oaks was a smaller congregation in Sherman Oaks, CA, an upscale community, just over the hills from Beverly Hills, and on the southern fringe of the San Fernando Valley.  I was a little anxious about the appointment, since I had never been a local church pastor and certainly wasn’t used to writing weekly sermons; but I was well-received by the congregation, and after a while, the preparation of sermons became routine.

My sermons were generally well received, and some even elicited applause!  The church badly needed attention to its organizational structure, its budgeting process, and its governance process.  All of those needs played to my strengths.  It took several years, but eventually we got everything reorganized into a more efficient operation.  I stayed on past my 65th birthday (traditional retirement age in the UMC), but finally decided to retire at 67.  My eight year tenure became the longest in the church’s 55 year history.  I had a wonderful send-off and continue to look back fondly upon my one and only pastorate.

Since retirement, I’ve continued to stay active in several organizations, most importantly as a member of the Board of Directors of Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee, for over ten years.  The Center focuses on justice and antiracism issues, as well as women’s concerns.

My personal health has limited my involvement in the past two years, but I look back with satisfaction on the work I’ve done and with appreciation for the many gifted and dedicated people with whom I have associated.

Delton Pickering, August 26, 2014