Friday, February 08, 2008

larry wilkinson

Yesterday I rose early, to prepare for my weekly Disciple II class. I love Genesis and Exodus, but am glad to be in the New Testament, Luke, to be precise. This may be that the Gospels are more familiar, or it could be due to the fact that I took Greek and not Hebrew in divinity school. Preparation seems easier. I met with the class for the first hour, and then Pam and jumped in the car and drove the three hours to Waynesville, North Carolina, to attend the memorial service of Larry Wilkinson.

Larry Wilkinson was one of the giants of the conference when I was coming into membership. He served twelve years as a district superintendent (the maximum allowed by the Discipline), under three different (and very distinct) Bishops. He loved the machinery of the conference (how boards worked, how appointments made), and he had some input into most important decisions. He had mastered the political dynamics of life in our denomination.

Having said this, Larry was not merely a political hack. He loved people, and took a genuine interest in them. He loved to laugh. He worked hard (as Wesley urged, he was rarely idle). He was always on the move. In him, it seemed that one could be human and still be a minister. This was not an assumption that most of us immediately shared as we were getting started in this work.

Our paths crossed many times. He guided the process of at least one person who was elected as a bishop. I participated in a small way in that, and came to know him. We would see each other at Duke's Pastor's School and Convocation in the fall, at our Conference's Mission to Ministers in the winter, at a dinner held the night before Annual Conference every June, and sometimes, by chance, in between.

Later, I came to serve as senior pastor at Providence UMC, and among my predecessors was Larry (1984-1990). He left a wonderful pastoral legacy there, getting to know people, adding a dimension of informality in a fairly formal church, strengthening the Haiti Mission. His informality could be disarming, but I must also add that he was broadly educated, having earned two master's degrees, Duke and Wake Forest, and a doctorate in education from UNC Greensboro. He was smart, sort of a pastoral equivalent of the country lawyer, conjured up in my mind by Senator Sam Erwin. You underestimated him at your own peril. I last visited him at the end of the year, in the rehabilitation hospital near the grounds of the Lake Junaluska Assembly. He was alert and engaged that afternoon, with one of his grandsons also in the room. We talked about many things, including high school volleyball, a passion shared by his granddaughter and my younger daughter.

Larry was seventy-one years old, and I suppose I had hoped for many more years (I had a very similar sadness in the death of Tom Langford, former Dean of Duke Divinity School and also a leader in our annual conference). The service in Larry's memory was wonderful, with four moving eulogies (two given by Bishops Kammerer and McCleskey), beautiful music, and good liturgy. Larry has left a big imprint in our lives, and he will be missed.


Blogger Donna Claycomb said...

Thank you for such a beautiful post for such an amazing person. Larry is the reason I joined the Western North Carolina Conference. I was introduced to him while a summer intern in Highlands, immediately following my first year of seminary. I'll never forget that first lunch with him - him throwing peanut shells on the floor, telling me all about the Conference, and encouraging me along the way. I'll also not forget the kind notes he would send whenever I saw him. And, I'll certainly not forget him telling me that I had to interview at Hendersonville First UMC because he knew that God was calling me there. Larry was an amazing person - a gift to the church and to pastors who served alongside of him in the church. Thank you, Lord, for sharing his life with us.

5:33 PM  

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