Later this morning, Stacey and I are off to Candler to attend the seminary's Distinguished Alumni Banquet. This year there are three recipients: Gilbert L. Schroerlucke (for service to community), Herschel Sheets (for service to Candler), and Bishop Bob Morgan (for service to church).
As it tends to be, all three of these men are old. I just don't know how else to say it. A lifetime of service is what usually garners such an award, so naturally the people who receive such an award have had long ministries. Bob Morgan is the youngest of the bunch, and he graduated from Candler in 1958. I think he just turned 78.
So while I am not ordinarily one to go out of my way to celebrate old white men--though I do hope to be one some day--Bishop Morgan was a mentor to me, and so I am excited to be present today.
The Bish, as we all called him, retired from sixteen years of active episcopal service to a life of teaching at Birmingham-Southern College (my alma mater), as the Bishop-in-Residence. I was among the group that traveled with Bish and his wife, Martha, to Greece and Italy in 2004 for one of his "Footsteps of Paul" trips. I also worked in BSC's Church Relations office my senior year, and my office was two doors down from his. You would have never known that this sweet man had been the President of the World Council of Bishops of the UMC by the way he took time to speak with me.
I am not someone who can point to a whole host of mentors in my life. I did not grow up in the church, so in ministry, there are only two or three people I can say really took the time to mentor me. And chief among them is Bishop Morgan. I know for a fact he secured my scholarship to Candler--and I needed all the help I could get. And he encouraged me throughout the ministry process, checking in every now and again to make sure I was keeping up with my responsibilities.
All of us who worked with the Bish have a favorite Bishop Morgan story--I have so many--but my favorite involves an exam we had in his Parables of Jesus class. The test was as you would expect: some multiple choice, some short answer, a couple of essays, and a map.
Now, I hate filling in maps. I hate it. I have never been any good at geography. Maybe my spatial reasoning is just not up to snuff. I don't know. But I have never been any good at maps. I avoided taking geography in high school and college because I knew I was no good at it, and I avoided taking classes where I knew I would have to mark up maps.
Or, at least, I'd thought I had successfully avoided taking those classes, because here I sat in Bishop Morgan's Parables class, staring at a map that I could hardly make heads or tails of. We were to mark the major cities in Jesus's life, and draw the boundaries of his ministry, or some such thing. And, for the life of me, I just could not get it right. I put the cities down that I could remember, and tried to place them on the map, and started marking the boundaries as best I could.
Maybe I looked confused. I would not doubt it. But Bishop Morgan got up from the table at the front of the class, walked to the back row, past the 40 or so other students in the classroom, and proceeded to actually give me the answers to the map. In the middle of his exam. I could almost hear the ears of the people sitting around me perk up as he started quietly pointing to places on the map and telling me what to write.
You'd better believe that I remembered the appropriate places from then on. You do not have the professor give you the answers in the middle of the exam and proceed to forget them. So if the point was to learn the map, well, I did. And if it required the Bish to actually give me the answers, so be it.
This is the kind of man Bishop Morgan is: willing to work with nobody college students, mentor them and encourage their gifts, and give them the answers in the middle of the test if necessary.
That kind of life is unnecessary, of course, at least in the eyes of most folks. Here we have a bishop, who does not need to do anything but retire and have a happy life. And yet, seeing the need in the church--and seeing the need in the students with whom he works--he continues to mentor.
I am excited to celebrate him today. I just hope that some of that caring spirit has rubbed off on me.