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Resurrection love: Caring for bodies this Easter

This Easter, I am focused on a little body. It’s been a while since I’ve raised four children; I’m out of practice caring for small people. But now as I babysit my 1-year-old granddaughter, I’m back to feeding, changing diapers and wiping goo off a little face. These are tasks I’m eager and willing to do, because my granddaughter is easily lovable.

It was not as fun or easy to care for my grandmother and my parents as their bodies grew old and their minds fuzzy. Their bodies suffered — from mobility issues, incontinence, dementia, pain and other indignities of aging. Caring for them in their frailty required me to dig deeper into my love, patience and respect for them.

My experiences bring to mind the story at the heart of Alice McDermott’s “The Ninth Hour.” As a Little Nursing Sister of the Sick Poor, Sister St. Saviour and other nuns in the novel serve an Irish American neighborhood in early-20th-century Brooklyn. It is a parish of those who are poor, abandoned, shut-in, unloved, widowed, orphaned.

These Nursing Sisters practice the fully embodied resurrection love of Jesus — sometimes despite the church —  touching wounds, feeding and healing bodies, offering compassion for broken minds and hearts.

It is profoundly loving — but to Greek and Roman ears, profoundly troubling — to believe that the fullness of God can dwell in a human body. Why would the perfection of divinity deign to deal with such messiness?

Jesus knew what it was to be in pain, to be lonely and to grieve. His healing ministries tended bodies young and old, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics, lepers, and those with infirm spirits. He made it his business to touch society’s cast-asides.

Through his own incarnation, Jesus endured the horror of crucifixion, the agonizing death of a criminal, an outcast. But through this final physical act of sacrifice, Jesus is resurrected and promises each of us resurrection of the body, joy and eternal life.

On Easter, he overcomes death to offer new life and the love that transforms our suffering world. Our task is not to flee embodiment but to fully embrace it with the divine love that he modeled for us.

While the sisters in McDermott’s novel are not saints, they exemplify Christ’s Easter love, a sensory offering of sacrifice.

Their story is set in crumbling tenement houses, seedy bars, funeral homes and sour-smelling alleys. In the nitty-gritty of their ministry, the nuns change diapers for shut-ins, shave the faces of old men, cleanse wounds, clean up bloody vomit, birth babies in dirty apartments, and diagnose ringworm, edema and anemia. They comfort the lonely and the bereaved.

At 64, Sister St. Saviour deals with her own arthritis, swollen legs and constant need to pee. Yet she, like the other sisters, ministers to her flock daily, walking for blocks in the cold and damp New York air to serve those confined to their beds.

“It would be a different church if I were running it!” she declares at one point.

Sister St. Saviour is funny, brave, compassionate, realistic and unafraid to break rigid church rules. When a young man named Jim loses his job and commits suicide, she instructs the nuns to disguise his final act so that his body can be buried in the church cemetery. The sisters know how important care of the body is, even in death. To Sister St. Saviour, mercy is more important than church dogma.

That Jim is afforded a Christian burial comforts Annie and Sally, his widow and young daughter. The nuns give them work in the convent’s basement laundry, a place of cleanliness, structure and protection. Sally has a peaceful childhood, raised lovingly by the sisters and her mother, and eventually decides to take orders herself.

But on an overnight Pullman train from Pennsylvania Station to the order of sisters in Chicago, where she will explore her vocation, Sally encounters an ugly side to humanity, facing sexual advances and a swindler, and witnessing child abuse, fear and evil.

She knows that her vocation is being tested and wants to respond mercifully like the nuns would, but she is overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of her fellow travelers. Sally can’t imagine loving people she doesn’t like or trust, people who mean to do her harm.

She is going to have to give her life to others, she realizes, “in the name of the crucified Christ and His loving mother.”

She remembers that one of the nuns, Sister Jeanne, said that “love stood before brutality in that moment on Golgotha and love was triumphant. Love applied to suffering, as Sister Illuminata put it: like a clean cloth to a seeping wound.”

The train ride reveals to Sally that she wants to offer only a sanitized love. She wants to wear a clean, starched habit and wants a clean cloth, “immaculate and pure,” to place against humanity’s wounds. She wants to pray the hours, speak softly and offer relief to a wretched world.

But she also wants, “in some equal, more furious way, not to be mocked for it; not to be fooled.” When she arrives at the station in Chicago, she tells the waiting nuns, “I’ve thought better of it.”

Like Jesus, Sally is expected to love the unlovable — and she is unable to do it. The demands of Christly love and sacrifice prove too much.

Resurrection love is not repulsed by the realities of bodies, as Sister St. Saviour knows. Rather, it continues Jesus’ work of touching the untouchable, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and caring for those cast aside by society. Such redemptive love restores human dignity and respect and believes in the resurrection of the body, even if those who offer it must sometimes endure scorn.

This Easter, how can we practice the realities of love? Not an idealistic, clean-cloth love but the earthy, embodied love of Jesus that restores and heals bodies and requires forgiveness, humility and sacrifice. Which bodies need our care? The incarnated and resurrected Christ has shown us the way.

More than 16 years ago, on the first day of my first real job in higher education, my supervisor treated me to lunch. Over grilled cheese and tomato soup, she said something that has stuck with me all this time: “I believe in you, and I want this job to be an opportunity for your growth and development, so let’s be sure to focus on that.”

I was coming out of a toxic church situation, and my new supervisor’s offer of support and mentorship gave me hope in my new role.

I am grateful for having had many wonderful mentors in my career as a pastor and higher education administrator. Their generous investment in me has inspired me to mentor others.

My first leadership mentor was my mother, who, after serving as a super church volunteer for more than 30 years, finally accepted a call to ordained ministry and served for 15 years as a senior pastor.

My mother modeled inclusion; for example, she took a special interest in the youth group kids. Every year, we hosted a big Halloween party at my parents’ farm in rural Illinois, with my dad driving the hayride tractor. Mom would work the phones, organizing transportation to make sure all the kids could get there.

She frequently disrupted our church system by not only serving as a woman in a leadership role but also including other women in leadership positions.

Achieving inclusion in leadership continues to be a problem across institutions. The number of women, and particularly women of color, who reach senior leadership roles continues to be small. In higher education, a clear majority (58%) of college students are women, yet only 33% of college presidents are women. Approximately half of college students identify as a race other than white, yet 73% of college presidents identify as white.

Representation is not more abundant in the church world, and in many ways, is worse. In my own United Methodist Church, where women are widely accepted for ordination and are a clear majority of members, only 32% of clergy are women. And the church remains one of the most racially segregated institutions in the United States.

This lack of representation in senior leadership roles is a wicked problem that requires individual, institutional and systemic solutions. I’ve come to believe that one important piece of the solution on an individual level is mentoring.

All along the way, I have felt frustrated that I am not making a bigger impact — and a bit terrified that I, as a white male, will do more harm than good by seeking to mentor people with identities different from mine. It puts a knot in my stomach to write publicly about my intentions in this area where I have so much to learn, but it is starting to seem more problematic to be silent. I recognize that white men can play a key role as gatekeepers.

I’ve had successes and failures. I’m happy to say that of the 21 employees I have had the privilege of hiring, most have been women and/or people of color, and most of them are thriving in new leadership roles. One of my proudest professional accomplishments was pivoting the leadership of a church I planted to a woman who has since led that church for more than 10 years.

I’ve also made mistakes. In one instance, I pushed one mentee too hard in my eagerness to develop what I saw to be her talents. In the end, I apologized and acknowledged, “I did a bad job of listening.”

In the academic literature on leadership development for women and people of color, mentoring comes up frequently. Recent studies that center the voices of women and people of color suggest that while mentoring may be helpful, what’s needed most are people who will move beyond merely mentoring to advocacy on their behalf.

I am now convinced that mentoring and advocating for mentees is crucial to progress. I’ve found success with a particular style of mentoring I think of as “mindful mentoring.”

Mindful mentoring moves beyond simply investing in someone to identifying, addressing and dismantling the systems that lead to disparity and inequity. The starting point is awareness of who is in your sphere of influence.

One theory I find useful is Leader-Member Exchange (LMX), which attempts to describe the quality of exchange in the relationship between leaders and the people influenced by them.

It describes an in-group and an out-group. In the workplace, those in the in-group have a deep connection and high-quality relationships with the leader. Studies have shown that being in the in-group leads to higher job satisfaction, commitment, performance and innovative behavior.

Those in the out-group are under the supervision of the leader but lack the high-quality connection of the in-group, and all the outcomes previously mentioned are worse.

The first step to being a mindful mentor is awareness. I know how easy it is for a white male in a senior position to forget his privilege, and I recommend a simple exercise to help leaders be mindful of their relationships.

Take a sheet of paper and draw two large circles, one inside the other. Label the inner circle “in-group” and the outer circle “out-group.” Next, write in the in-group circle the names of the people in your sphere of leadership with whom you have a great connection.

Then fill in the out-group circle. Finally, apply the lens of gender and race to the names on the paper. Who is in your circle(s) of influence? Who is missing?

When I first tried this exercise, I was surprised and disappointed to see how many people in my inner circle looked like me. I now complete this exercise twice a year. It’s helped me be aware of who is in my in-group and to strategize about how to move women and people of color from the out-group to the in-group.

Being a mindful mentor includes doing your own work of self-awareness, striving for cultural humility, uncovering your own implicit biases, and perpetually attempting to understand why these representation disparities exist in the first place.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at the scale and scope of the work that needs to be done, but being a mindful mentor is practicing hope by focusing on what is within your control. Be aware of your immediate context and think concretely about what you can do today to make a difference.

I have two little daughters, and my deep desire is that they will grow up in a world where their gender will not limit the leaders they can be. Currently, their primary care physician is a woman, and we have many female family friends who are medical professionals. The other day, one of my daughters asked me, “Daddy, can boys be doctors too?”

I said, “Yes, boys can choose to be doctors too.” This kind of upside-down thinking motivates me to be the best mindful mentor I can be.

The Rev. Afi Dobbins-Mays proved resilient amid adversity throughout her first pastorate, serving two rural United Methodist congregations outside Madison, Wisconsin. But in 2022, a decade later, no amount of grit could keep her in ministry. By then, she was demoralized and needed a change.

She had overcome racism, aimed at her as a Black woman, including when individuals in her nearly all-white congregation had repeatedly refused to meet with her. Congregants had rallied behind her, raised awareness of the issue and helped bring in a diverse group of new members.

“There was a beautiful culture in that church,” she said.

But then her conference relocated her to a “critical mission site” (i.e., not financially self-supporting) in inner-city Milwaukee, where the stressors were many and the supports few.

Half the congregation of 60 quit the church upon her arrival, unwilling to have a woman in the pulpit. Grant funding was promised but fell through, she said. And when regional United Methodist decision makers called during pandemic hard times, it wasn’t to show support.

“They said, ‘What’s the reason why your church is not financially solvent right now?’” she recalled. “‘Why is it that you guys aren’t on your feet?’ It felt like a punitive conversation. They started cutting the money back.”

What does rallying to support a pastor look like in your congregation?

woman speaks to a group
Afi Dobbins-Mays speaks at a book signing event for retired ELCA pastor Kenneth Wheeler at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

When a second congregation was added to her Milwaukee charge, her pay remained the same: about $43,000 plus benefits. She informed her district superintendent that she needed to earn at least $60,000 plus benefits, she said, but was told that wouldn’t happen in Milwaukee or anywhere else.

“I started looking into other options, because I didn’t really see a viable pathway to grow in my career after that conversation,” Dobbins-Mays said. “I didn’t feel supported in ministry.”

She worked briefly for a food bank before accepting a three-year position as assistant to the bishop for authentic diversity and leadership in the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She finds satisfaction now leading workshops on racism and oppression. And in a cause close to her heart, she’s helping launch a new ELCA camp next summer for children with an incarcerated parent.

Dobbins-Mays is one of a number of clergy who have left their jobs in parish ministry because of factors including managing institutional decline. And though there might not be a real “great resignation” of pastors, those like Dobbins-Mays can offer insights into the stressors affecting pastors in the U.S.

Expanding discontent among clergy surfaced in January when the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations (EPIC) study reported findings from a fall 2023 survey of 1,700 religious leaders. More than half (53%) said they’d seriously considered leaving pastoral ministry at least once since 2020. That’s up from 37% surveyed in 2021.

A closer look reveals that mainline clergy are the group most likely to consider leaving. Those particularly at risk include pastors serving congregations of 51 to 250 worship attendees with no ministry colleagues on staff; those in congregations that foresee struggling to survive — or closing — in the near future; those mired in congregational conflict; and those who say their congregations are unwilling to change to meet new challenges.

“The pandemic was a collective trauma both for the clergy and for the church,” said Scott Thumma, the director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (HIRR) and the principal researcher for the study. “Both of them suffered. And both of them, our research is showing, are collectively responsible for overcoming some of these challenges that lead to pastors thinking about changing congregations or leaving the ministry.”

The report is quick to add context to the percentage of pastors who have seriously considered leaving. Congregations are not seeing a collared exodus. Considering leaving and actually leaving are not the same thing. Numerous factors keep pastors in parish ministry, even if they’re not thrilled about it.

What are the stresses in your congregation? Who feels that stress most acutely?

“There’s not a spike in clergy retiring early or in their departure, at least through 2022, in the data from some of the denominations,” Thumma said in a webinar on the report. “I don’t think we’re going to see the ‘great resignation’ that many people have talked about.”

Nonetheless, those who have left in search of greener professional pastures might shed light on what needs fixing. That’s the expertise of Todd Ferguson, a Rice University sociologist of religion and co-author of “Stuck: Why Clergy Are Alienated From Their Calling, Congregation and Career … and What to Do About It.”

Ferguson names four factors that have led to a number of pastors leaving parish ministry: managing institutional decline; navigating conflict or division along political lines; feeling they couldn’t be their authentic selves in the congregational leader role; and facing disillusionment with a drifting mission.

A lack of resources

Demoralization doesn’t afflict just those who become burned out in ministry, as Dobbins-Mays did. Fallout from mainline decline is taking a toll also on people who still feel called but can’t make it work in today’s resource-constrained local settings.

Take the Rev. Loren Richmond Jr., a 41-year-old ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Richmond reluctantly began transitioning out of parish ministry in 2021 when he took a full-time job in local government. He now works for the Aurora Housing Authority, where he coordinates services for elders and veterans.

Do you see the four factors Ferguson describes in your congregation?

Loren Richmond Jr in a staff photo
Loren Richmond Jr., left, stands with other staff including senior pastor Sandi Dillon, right, at a Christmas Eve service at Washington Park United Methodist Church.

“I needed to make more money,” Richmond says flatly. “I don’t know if it’s feasible financially [to do parish ministry], at least at this stage of my life. And that’s really hard for me. I’ve committed 20 years of my life to this.”

The numbers just weren’t working. Having bought an average-priced house for his family of four in the Denver metro area in 2021, when interest rates were still low, he’s now paying down a $3,000 per month mortgage. Even with his wife’s income, they couldn’t swing it on his $45,000 salary for a three-quarters-time associate pastor and youth director position. He now earns $61,000 plus benefits in his government job.

Who is responsible for identifying and deploying resources in your congregation? Is the duty shared?

candle light service

His departure from ministry came despite creative attempts to keep pastoring. After starting his government job, he continued working at Washington Park United Methodist Church in Denver on a reduced, quarter-time basis (10 hours a week). Yet even with his church duties scaled back, he was constantly thinking about the next sermon or next youth activity, until he couldn’t do it anymore. He gave his final sermon Jan. 14, 2024.

“After eight hours of work and two hours in the car, there was not a lot of stamina left, even to sit at the computer and do something church related,” Richmond said, holding back tears in a Zoom interview. “That’s really what it came down to. I found myself out of gas, mentally exhausted trying to manage it all.”

Growing divisions and threatened authenticity

When Ferguson says pastors leave ministry to escape feeling trapped in a political tinderbox, he could be talking about the Rev. Christi Tennyson of St. Louis. She left ministry in 2021 to become a fundraiser for Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services.

Christi Tennyson portrait

Now 48, she was first licensed to pastor in 2015 and has been ordained in the United Church of Christ since 2018. She says she became a progressive thinker while reading the Bible deeply for the first time at Eden Theological Seminary.

“I’m not going [to] preach politics, but what I would preach were Christian values,” Tennyson said. “I tell people, ‘The whole crux of every world religion is — I’m going to use a bad word — don’t be an a——.’”

Before the pandemic, her approach to politics and liberal theology wasn’t a problem at Pilgrim United Church of Christ, a purple, aging congregation of about 55 in rural Labadie, Missouri. They knew each other. Serving 19 hours a week in the parish, she’d joined them in mission projects, such as hosting bluegrass concerts and a huge Halloween festival every year.

“They were really good at mission in their tiny town,” she said. “I loved the people. I still love the people. I miss them.”

But the pandemic pushed them apart, literally and relationally. Worshipping solely on Zoom for a year created a chasm that never closed.

“I felt I had lost the connection to my people,” Tennyson said. “I’m a hugger, and when you’re just looking at people over a screen, you lose the conversations that tell you what’s happening in their lives.”

With relational ties weakened, political differences felt sharper as in-person activities resumed. She listened as parishioners expressed negative views of various types of people, including immigrants, high-profile rape victims and women who’d had abortions. She came to think her “love your neighbor” preaching wasn’t making a difference. Their values were too far apart.

“I just felt like, ‘What am I doing?’” she said. “They listen for an hour a week, and then they leave and they’re spewing hateful rhetoric. … It was soul crushing.”

Along the way, trying to be authentic and forthright without alienating conservatives was a never-ending concern. She felt she had to hide who she was: a self-described “foul-mouthed sorority girl” who’d once had an abortion that saved her life. Her flawed humanity was a strength in the pulpit, she said, but always having to walk the fine line of congregational diplomacy was “exhausting.”

“A lot of times, pastors are hamstrung, because if enough people don’t like what you say, you will lose your job,” she said. “There was always fear on some level that I would say the wrong thing and make the wrong person angry and I would lose the job.”

Feeling burned out, Tennyson didn’t consider moving to a new church, because by the time she left in 2021, parish ministry didn’t fit her life anymore. Her marriage was heading for divorce. She expected that another congregation would not accept the spiritual authority of a recently divorced woman. She also didn’t want to feel judged for dating. And then there was the matter of money. Becoming a single parent meant she needed to earn more, but most UCC parish ministry jobs in her area aren’t full-time with health benefits, she said.

Now a successful fundraiser, Tennyson feels called to her new vocation. She’s grateful that she can pray daily with colleagues and do something to make the world better. In her new role, she’s a frequent guest speaker in local churches but no longer bears the weight of churchgoers’ expectations. She appreciates not having to manage what she calls “the church nonsense.”

Disillusionment with mission drift

On paper, the senior pastor position that the Rev. Alexander Lang accepted in 2013 was a plum. He preached to more than 500 in weekly worship attendance, worked alongside 15 staff colleagues and oversaw a budget over $1 million at one of greater Chicago’s most prominent mainline churches, First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights.

When a pastor does leave your congregation, do leaders ask about the forces that contributed to the decision?

First Presbyterian service
Alexander Lang preaches his final sermon as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

“I don’t think that I could have found anything better in terms of a church,” Lang said.

But Lang wasn’t getting to do what he entered ministry to do, which was to “build community and create the kingdom of God on earth,” he said. Instead, he was devoting half his time to fundraising, committee meetings and other institution-supporting endeavors. After 10 years, he left the position this past August.

“The church is not really a church anymore; you have to treat it like a business,” Lang said. “Which is unfortunate, because if I’d wanted to run a business, I would have gone to business school.”

Signs of decline, such as a 50% drop in worship attendance over his decade in Arlington Heights, only increased the pressure he felt to keep the institution afloat. Along with that came pressure to assuage demanding parishioners and sometimes endure what he regarded as emotional abuse.

“There were people who felt like, ‘Because I helped to pay your salary, I can treat you any way I want,’” Lang said. “They felt like they could berate me without any real thought to what that means to me as a person.”

Alex Lang

Lang became convinced that he’d need to leave ministry in order to live out his vocation as a change agent. He’d tried on several fronts, from delivering provocative sermons to laying groundwork for new social enterprises. But the large-scale change that he believes is necessary was a tough sell.

Lang is now an aspiring tech entrepreneur, seeking angel funding for a product he isn’t discussing publicly. All he learned about business in the church might be transferable to his new venture. At least that’s the hope.

Thumma, drawing on his research, has some advice for congregations hoping to keep their pastors from leaving ministry. First, he says, churches and clergy need to recognize that the last four years have been traumatic and the effects are still being worked out. Second, churches should try to find ways to reduce levels of conflict and find ways to appreciate the relationship between the clergyperson and the congregation.

“It’s pretty clear what creates a hospitable environment and reality for a flourishing congregation and what doesn’t,” Thumma said. The challenge is that it requires working constructively together.

The recent HIRR report said it well: “What is positively associated with fewer thoughts of leaving is … being in a church with a bright outlook for the future, one that has less conflict, is more open to change and adaptation, and cultivates a good, healthy [relationship] between the members and pastor.”

Who are the hopeful people in your congregation and community? How can their voices and influence be strengthened?

Questions to consider

  • What does rallying to support a pastor look like in your congregation?
  • What are the stresses in your congregation? Who feels that stress most acutely?
  • A Rice University sociologist has identified four factors that push pastors to leave parish ministry. Do you see these factors in your congregation?
  • Who is responsible for identifying and deploying resources in your congregation? Is the duty shared?
  • When a pastor does leave your congregation, do leaders ask about the forces that contributed to the decision?
  • Who are the hopeful people in your congregation and community? How can their voices and influence be strengthened?

When Jack Causey moved to a neighboring city to pastor their First Baptist church, I waited for a couple of months and then called.

“You don’t know me, but I know you. Could we meet?”

It sounds like a note passed in middle school, but we were adults. I was a pastor in my 20s in need of guidance. Jack was entering his fourth pastorate. Each congregation had thrived under his leadership.

Jack’s preaching and worship skills were such that he frequently designed worship services for and spoke at youth events and on college campuses, which were then tough crowds. Jack had been the pastor-adviser to a campus group when I was an undergraduate. I did not know him personally, but I was part of the crowd that followed him.

headshot of Jack Causey

At lunch, I mentioned needing to learn from him, and Jack immediately rejected the idea of being a mentor or coach. We could be friends and peer pastors, he said. He was willing to meet once a month. We did that for about five years. Later, Jack agreed to facilitate an intensive, yearlong leadership development group with me. We did that for a decade.

Jack died in November, 37 years after our first lunch. On Facebook, because that is the social media of my generation, I read hundreds of clergy testifying to Jack’s impact on their lives. At his memorial services, I learned that Jack had gathered peer groups before that phrase was known in our denomination.

I wondered: What was so special about Jack Causey? How did he come to influence so many people?

When I asked to meet with him in 1986, I was drawn to his skills as a storyteller and his experience as a pastor. After years of facilitating groups with Jack, I realized that his superpower was listening.

Everything from the intense gaze of his blue eyes to the forward lean of his posture communicated that he heard me. If he knew something that would help, he would offer it. If not, he would give enough feedback to demonstrate that he was hearing me and was with me. Person after person in the memorial service testified to receiving the gift of being heard.

One of the reasons Jack resisted the title “mentor” and was hesitant about being a “coach” is that he was humble. He thought those titles suggested that he had some technique or wisdom. He would say he offered kindness. He offered friendship.

That description might suggest that he was passive, but Jack had a keen sense of how to put what he was hearing and noticing into action. As a congregational pastor and elected official in his denomination, he honed the skills of good leadership. He moved toward conflict and sought productive resolutions. He worked to establish consensus and held himself and others accountable to goals.

He was a master at setting and keeping boundaries. Before smartphones, Jack never carried his calendar with him, because he wanted to have space to think through any commitments being asked of him. At the church, the only key that he claimed to carry was to his office. He did not want to be distracted by being drawn into doing others’ work. At our first lunch, he set a rule that we would each buy our own meals (although when I was his “boss,” he did let me pay).

His leadership and service engendered long-lasting loyalty. A couple of years ago, I arranged to visit Jack. That morning, I learned that his beloved wife, Mary Lib, was gravely ill and had been admitted to hospice that day. Jack wanted me to come to the hospice house.

When I arrived and asked a volunteer to be directed to Mary Lib’s room, the lobby quickly filled with six or seven more volunteers. They asked all sorts of polite questions about how I knew Mary Lib and Jack. I was from out of town, and they were determined to protect the Causeys at this vulnerable time.

Jack heard the ruckus and came out to assure the group that we were old friends. I was deeply moved by the mutual care that had developed between the Causey family and the community and had endured for more than 20 years after his retirement from First Baptist.

After I left the pastorate near Jack, I launched a center to support congregations and established a leadership development program for clergy in their first five years of congregational ministry. Another mentor of mine guided me in setting up the framework to serve about a dozen clergy per cohort. I was near the same age and experience level as the participants and needed a partner who could bring decades of experience to the program in a humble and inviting way.

I approached Jack, and we co-led the yearlong program for about a decade. A few years into that process, Jack retired from the pastorate and devoted his vocational energy to staying in touch with the participants. Over time, the participants spread the word about how helpful a conversation with Jack could be.

My contribution to Jack’s post-congregational ministry was to create conditions for him to offer friendship and encouragement to more pastors. Jack knew this was his calling, and he asked me how he could do it in an accountable way. Eventually, our denomination also set up a structure for Jack’s work. When I read all those Facebook posts and comments, I took some comfort in knowing that our institution and denomination had been part of creating the opportunity for Jack to befriend more people.

Jack Causey’s ministry reminds me of the impact that happens when someone is committed to what Jack called friendship and I know as mentoring. It can happen one-on-one through the individual’s initiative. The impact can be expanded by thoughtfully created structures and conditions. But at the heart of it is a person deeply committed to careful listening and mutual respect.

Jack may be right that “mentor” is not a helpful word, because it commonly represents a top-down relationship. But he brought wisdom to our relationship and to countless others that many in my denomination will miss.

Thanks be to God for Jack. May we all be inspired to offer friendship to colleagues after his example.