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Remembering Wayne Oates On the Occasion of the Oates Banquet 2000
Remembering Wayne Oates
On the Occasion of the
Oates Banquet 2000
by Clarence Y. Barton
As strange as it may sound, my wife Mary and I don't take the same trips. It's true we travel together, stay in the same hotel rooms, see the same sights, etc. In talking about the trip we discover we've seen and recalled different things. These differences enrich my memories.
After Wayne's death nearly a year ago, many of us talked and wrote about our memories of our "journey" with Wayne. I was reminded how different our experiences and memories were. Tonight, my memories may not be the same as yours.
Surely all of us could agree that in the rich history of Southern storytellers, Wayne held a unique place. He had the gift to tell his story. He also could tell our story. He knew the uses of language in strengthening the soul. He never abandoned his Southern way of speaking. Instead, he burnished it into an instrument to enlighten, to confront, and to empower the less articulate ones of us. He often spoke on behalf of the voiceless and disenfranchised.
Wayne's authority in the field of psychology of religion and pastoral care was the reason I chose to come to Louisville in 1950. Out of many student-teacher memories, I choose three to share tonight.
When speaking of a pastor's work with parishioners, Wayne offered this image: "Be close enough to your people that they can experience your warmth, but far enough away from them that when they come to you they will know they have been somewhere." Granted, not every trip to the pastor's study is a pilgrimage to Lourdes, but in its way, it too may be a healing journey.
Wayne had a gift for giving a special name to commonplace experiences. The illustration I choose is what he called "the ministry of introduction." Everybody makes introductions; Wayne saw it as a ministry and was generous and thoughtful in introducing me and you to a host of others. Through the past 50 years he often introduced me to his mentors, his friends, his professional colleagues and even his primary literary sources. First among that group I met is his wife, Pauline, and his Wake Forest University roommate, Henlee Barnette, both of whom still enhearten and support us. Then there are those whom he introduced me to who have gone ahead of us: Spafford Ackerly, Seward Hiltner, Gaines Dobbins, Lewis Sherrill, Victor Frankl, Swan Haworth, and especially Anton Boisen.
Boisen explored ministry to mentally ill persons as a field of study and research and became the father of Clinical Pastoral Education. He showed how worship and pastoral care could be relevant in a psychiatric hospital community. It was in such a setting that I had opportunity to minister. Drawing from Boisen's research and his own work with distressed persons, Wayne taught me to seek the "sense in the nonsense" of so-called "crazy experiences." To this day I find it useful to look for meaning—sense—in the nonsense. No person is "crazy" when we can find an understanding of what is going on, interpersonally, biochemically, spiritually and culturally. Boisen was Wayne's teacher and friend. Not long before Boisen died, he invited Wayne to visit Elgin State Hospital in Illinois, where he lived in retirement. Wayne asked me to go with him to see Boisen, who was in his 80's and physically feeble. I treasure the memory of those two pioneers together, which proved to be the last time they met.
A final memory I want to share is a story Wayne told. As I recall, he was in a fishing boat on the North Carolina coast. He had hired an older man to take him fishing. As the day wore on, Wayne was surprised when he noticed the old man had a beautiful diamond ring on his finger. Wayne said to him, "That is a perfectly beautiful diamond you have." The old fisherman, it turns out, was a retired jeweler. He smiled, shook his head, and said, "That's not a perfect diamond; scientists make perfect diamonds. God made this diamond. Every diamond God makes has a little flaw in it so you can tell one from the other."
In the manner of a wise and masterful diamond cutter, Wayne Oates took a flaw he found in himself, gave this flaw a name, and he is remembered in history for his self confessed and self named "workaholism." Now we find people all over the world who use this word, workaholism, to make sense of their flaw, though seldom do we find Wayne's brilliance.
Speaking of his deceased father, Hamlet said:
He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
(Hamlet, Act. 1)