Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
3745 Kimball Avenue
Memphis, Tennessee 38111
901 743 6421

The article is taken from THE TRACT, June 2019 issue



Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called

to serve, laboring together with them and with your fellow ministers

to build up the family of God?

~ The Ordination of a Priest, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 532


          It’s now nearly a third of a century since I responded. Of all the questions I was asked at that ordination service, this is the one to which I continue to find new reasons to answer “I will.” (Actually, I wish the Prayer Book writers had added “with God’s help,” like we say at Baptisms.)


          I believe God is still helping me see how this part of what some call the priest’s job description - “undertake to be a faithful pastor” - keeps expanding for me. When I first began to explore the deeper meaning of this invitation, I was surprised at the choice of the word “undertake.” Of all the verbs available, why that one? And then I realized that “undertaker” is an old expression for what we also call a “funeral director.”


          I think I began to experience “undertaking” while riding in a hearse to the graveside of a member of one of the first churches I served. While my new friend, the funeral director, was driving, I was writing - a homily for another funeral. I pray I never forget thatundertaking” is the foundation of pastoring. Aside from “all other duties as assigned,” my job is, more often than not, to be with people at their times of celebration and joy, as well as in the midst of their losses, transitions, and grief. It is my job to accompany others on their journeys of life, death, and resurrection.


          Here’s what I know: When I pay attention to this ordination vow to “labor together,” I’ll be looking for ways to collaborate and cooperate with my fellow ministers. Creating groups of church folk called Care Teams has been one way I’ve sought collaboration in the larger churches I’ve served.


          Now that I’m your priest here at Holy Trinity, I want to find ways for us to labor together in our shared ministry of care and prayer . I also know that, since my retirement, God has been calling me to “build up the family of God” in new ways that are both inside and outside the life of what we call “church.” As time passes, I want to tell you how I came to recognize this new chapter of vocation. For now, let me tell you what I’ve been up to.



          Since the shooting death of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, nearly five years ago, I’ve become active in juvenile justice reform. Having finished serving a two-year appointed term on the Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium, I was recently asked to join an official advisory group for the brand-new Youth Advocacy Center of Shelby County.


          I also serve as mentor to a formerly-court-involved African-American teenager. Rashod is a young man who, I believe, would have been better served by a youth advocacy center. He could have been offered resources, guidance, assessment, and, frankly, compassion, rather than just surviving juvenile court and probation, if such a center had been available to him.


          My other new passion for collaboration outside the life of the church is with the Lynching Sites Project (LSP) of Memphis. LSP is working with other groups and individuals to host courageous conversations, programs, and observances. We seek to uncover the whole truth of racial terror and violence and to create a new legacy of racial equality and healing. In the words of Ida B. Wells, we want to right those wrongs called lynchings in Shelby County by shining the light of truth on them. I’m honored and humbled to have been elected to the LSP Board and to serve as president.


          The Rev. Dr. Dorothy Wells, Rector of St. George’s, Germantown, was your guest at the annual Red and Black Affair, celebrating Black History Month in February. Last month there was a summary of her remarks in the June “Tract.” When I read the last paragraph, I knew I needed to respond:


          “I hold fast to the belief that through the Church’s own repentance, through the hard work of reconciliation, can come understanding and healing that can come from nowhere else. I am committed to that work. Who will join me?” I will, with God’s help, and from a different perspective.


          While I agree the church will always be a primary healing source for those who choose to seek it there, there are other healing sources and resources our world, country, county, city, and communities also need. I’ll state the obvious: All our institutions - government, healthcare, education, religion - are imperfect, sinful, unjust, and broken, perhaps more than ever.


          In 2019 I believe we all need to collaborate - legislators and teachers, doctors and nurses, ordained and lay ministers, undertakers of all kinds - to labor together in building up the family of God. That family looks different now than it did when I grew up in the Episcopal church, even when I was ordained. Dare we believe the church isn’t all there is to the family of God?