Today, at St. John’s United Methodist Church, where I hold my full-membership, there will be a memorial service. It is a memorial service I long to attend but will not be able to do so. It is only 5 hours from Weatherford, Texas to Lubbock, Texas and I could easily make it there. It’s not the expense…gas is cheaper than it has been in a long time and I could make it there and back on one tank of gas.
On the other hand, the man they are memorializing is the Rev. Ted Dotts. Ted was still in the pulpit the very first time I visited St. John’s. I remember that day well. Years later, when I joined as a full-member, Ted had become the Pastor Emeritus. I joined within a month of St. John’s becoming a Reconciling Congregation. The pastor at the time was the Rev. Bobby McMillan, a class mate of Ted’s at Perkins in the early 1960s. These two men and Betty and Marilyn, along with Rev. Dave Treat and his wife Dennie, helped me see the beauty and power of the Wesleyan way.
Over the last year or so of my attendance (my wife decided to attend Perkins School of Theology and we have moved to Weatherford while she attends), I participated in Ted and Betty’s Sunday School class. Ted would always have to leave early, so he could serve at other churches and locations, such as Carillon. Betty would also leave early so she could play piano and organ at other church services too. There will be many stories shared today and over the days and weeks to come, I would like to share a couple, as well as an observation and explanation.
So many years ago, at a time of emotional and spiritual upheaval in my life, I stood before the congregation at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Lubbock and laid my soul bare. In tears, with a broken heart, I sat back down when I felt a hand on my arm. It was Ted Dotts. Not a word was exchanged. Ted once said that sometimes the most important thing about a sermon is what you leave out. No words were needed that day. Ted made me feel that grace would carry me through. Ted Dotts was like that…he touched so many of us, through his words, sermons, Sunday School lessons and the gracious manner in which he lived his life. And sometimes, by his simple touch. All of those things will continue, not despite his passing today, but because of it. You know, Pastoral Care.
On yet another occasion (this one actually preceded the aforementioned), I received a call from staff at University Medical Center in Lubbock. You see, Rev. Bobby McMillan had put me to work shortly after joining. I had taken the Lay Shepherd training and had been assigned to the UMC, what the hospital was usually called (what a coincidence). A member of our church, Ken, who was suffering from AIDS, had arrived at the E.R., via taxi, to have a port cleared. The staff asked him if there was someone at home to help take care of him and he replied, “My mother” so, the staff member placed him in a taxi and sent him home. It was bitterly cold that night, probably in the teens of low twenties, when the cab arrived at Ken’s home. The cabdriver knocked on the door and received no answer. Thankfully, the driver did not leave Ken at the doorstep, but rather, he took Ken back to the hospital. That’s when I received the call. The hospital staffer knew that Ken was a member of St. John’s and checked the list of hospital/church volunteers and matched my name. I had known that I had seen Ken sit with an elderly woman during services and had always assumed it was his mother. The staffer and I were afraid that perhaps she had fallen ill or become incapacitated and unable to answer the door. I asked the staffer to place Ken in a cab and send him to my home, I would get his home.
It was about 8:00 pm on a Friday night when this whole thing started. I started to make call after call and, finally, I reached Ginny Riggs (wow, so many saints at St. John’s). I told her of the situation and she replied “Of course his mother didn’t answer, she’s been dead for 15 years!” AIDS-induced dementia had set in and Ken was on his way to my house. I didn’t know what to do. I frantically called another church member, Bess. Bess had a son who had died of AIDS and would have some insight in what we should do.
Ken arrived at the house, dressed in only a robe and shower shoes. Bess asked me to put Ken in the car, come pick her up, and we would go the Ken’s house, as she knew where it was since she had visited him in the past. I bundled him up, placed him in the car, picked up Bess and arrived at Ken’s house.
Ken did not have any keys in his robe pockets, so I had to force a window to get into his house. Once in, I noticed he had double-cylinder deadbolts, so I had to “break-out” to get a door open. We finally got Ken in his home.
Both Bess and I knew that Ken usually was treated at Methodist Hospital (now called Covenant). We searched for an address book to call a family member but would find none. We did find a card for his treating physician, but by this time, it was fast approaching 10:00 pm and Bess knew that Ken was sinking fast. We placed Ken in my car and took him to the ER at Methodist.
Upon arrival, we were received with little enthusiasm. The staff knew Ken and did not seem happy to see him. They called his doctor and, about an hour or so later, she arrived. She came up to Ken, took one look at him and said “Ken, we’ve talked about this before, it is time to end Plan A and move on to Plan B.” She then turned on her heel and left. I asked to speak to either the charge nurse or the nursing house supervisor. The Supervisor came out and said there was nothing they could do, that the doctor had told them she would not order Ken admitted and she asked us to take Ken home. I informed her that ken was a member of the church I attended but that I didn’t know him beyond seeing him at services, certainly not enough to provide care for him. Bess was fresh out of the hospital herself and unable to care for anyone. She said she would check with social services. Much more time passed by.
Finally, at about 1:00-1:30 am, a young Lubbock police officer came bursting into the ER. He walked directly up to Ken (who was sitting in a wheelchair) and ordered him to “Cover up, I don’t want to see that shit!” since Ken’s robe was a bit open. He then turned to Bess and I and informed us that, if we didn’t leave the ER immediately, we would all three be arrested. Bess informed the office that he didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, and told the policeman that “he (Ken) was dying.” The officer responded, “Lady we’re all dying, now get the hell out or I’ll arrest you.”
The office walked around the corner and was smoking a cigarette. I walked up to him and asked if I could speak with him to clarify something. I asked “If we don’t leave, you’ll arrest us?” He said “Yes.” I asked “All three of us?” He said “Yes.” I responded by stating, “So, all three of us will head downtown, Bess and I will get booked, but they’ll take one look at Ken and refuse to book him and bring him right back here to the hospital. We’ll wait to get arrested. Why don’t you save a lot of trouble and have the hospital staff pull Ken’s records and call his next of kin.”
Apparently, he saw the wisdom of my comment. He did not arrest us (or intimidate us). About an hour or so later he came up to me and smugly said “We got a hold of his sister and the Vice-President of this, hospital, Ted Dotts, and they are on their way here.” I responded “Teddy, he’s the Pastor Emeritus at the church the three of us attend! Thanks.”
When Ted arrived, he informed us that Ken and his sister had become estranged. She would only come to help her brother if Ted was present. She arrived and saw the weakened state her brother was in. Her heart was changed. She lifted him up into her arms and carried him to her car. We all caravanned to Ken’s home, and, about 3:30 am, left the two of them there to complete their reconciliation. Ken died on his couch at 10:00 that morning, with his sister by his side.
Ted never wavered as a man seeking reconciliation, his own as well as that of others. And he never forgot that he had a flock to lead. He taught Shelly and me the great importance of tending to those who depend on you…your congregation and your family.
So, despite wanting to be there today with you Betty, Beth, Rebecca, Brad, John, Abebe, Samuel and Anna, as a clergy family, we have so much to do. On Sunday we have two baptisms, Sunday school lessons to plan, meetings to attend. We have to prepare ashes for Wednesday, we have an AA meeting at the church that might need childcare. I have a half-day lesson to teach at Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church on Cultural Competence, I have a conference call with Churches Uniting in Christ to plan a ”Eradicating Racism” program and Perkins reading and writing to be done. And we have two young sons that want us at their school Valentine’s Day party. You know, Pastoral Care.
You taught us well, as a model and never a critic, what it means to serve God. For that, Shelly and I can’t begin to thank you and Betty. You sacrificed so much to make this world a better place.
Many prayers for many people today Ted. Prayers of comfort, prayers of solace, prayers of hope.
And prayers of thanksgiving for having met you and to have called you a Pastor and friend, and for the intersection of our lives that showed us what it means to serve God and to walk many of the steps that you and Betty have. As Shelly and I are early in our ministry, may we do so with humility and grace.
Rest well my friend.