A few years ago I attended a gathering of United Methodists at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. Somehow, I’m not sure how, my name came up to lead a small group that met periodically to discuss the presentations we were hearing. I didn’t know a person in my group, but I did recognize one. He was Kenneth Carder.
He’s a pretty big name in United Methodist circles. He is the author of several great books. He served as bishop in Tennessee and Mississippi, and in retirement served on the faculty at Duke Divinity School. I was honored to meet him but, I must say, I was a bit intimidated to see him sitting across from me in our small circle. He was as gracious as could be, did a lot more listening than speaking, but when he spoke he had a lot to say in a few words.
I remembered this as I read last week about Ken Carder’s latest retirement gig. He is chaplain at Bethany Memory Care, near Columbia, South Carolina. He doesn’t play favorites among the 40 elderly, forgetful people who he visits, leads in worship, and sometimes helps feed. But one of them holds a special place in his heart — his wife of 55 years, Linda.
Linda began showing signs of dementia 10 years ago. Her condition progressed until he could no longer be her primary care giver, even with help coming into their home. But he could not just “send her away” and let others care for her. Hence, his offer to serve as chaplain.
In worship he reports that deep memories come back to these people who can remember so little. Hymns, the Lord’s Prayer, and familiar passages of scripture are effortlessly called forth. In a Pentecost sermon, Ken Carder was describing the “rush of a mighty wind”. One of the residents called out, “Oh, my Lord!” Carder said, “I just stopped and told him, ‘I’ll bet some of the people there said the same thing’.”
We had a similar situation in my family as my dad’s memory got progressively worse. I know many of you are dealing with this right now in some way. 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease today, and that number is forecast to rise rapidly in the coming years.
This was not how Ken and Linda had planned to spend their “golden years”. But those “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” vows mean something to him. Much more than that, he loves her, even in these days when she sometimes doesn’t know who he is.
Here’s what he says: “Linda can no longer express love to me in the way she has for most of the 55 years we’ve been together, but I can love her without any expectation of return. I do that imperfectly. God does it perfectly. That’s what ‘agape’ love is.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about leaders as we continue our series this fall. One thing is clear. The greatest leader is the one who will stoop the lowest to serve. Jesus is one example. Ken Carder is another.
In Christ, John