Monday, August 6, 2012

Saying goodbye to ministry from a Durham pulpit

Carl W. Kenney II delivering the keynote address at the Triangle Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Interfaith Community Breakfast at the Sheraton Hotel, RTP, NC in January of 2000.

It’s hard to explain the emotions that come with letting go of the work that has been such a big part of your life.  It’s not that I gave up.  I decided to let go.  There is a big difference between the two.

Since 1989, I have stood before congregants every Sunday to deliver a message of hope.  I have baptized people, performed marriage ceremonies, dedicated babies, given eulogies and fought with great passion to change the lives of broken people.  The title pastor has preceded my name.  That will cease on September 2 when Compassion Ministries of Durham comes to an end.

Since making the decision to put the work to rest, I’ve pondered the meaning of it all.  What has it meant for me to walk down this road less traveled?  What lessons do I take with me after having poured so much of myself into living by the teachings of the one I serve?  The answers continue to pour into my spirit.  Some are about moments of transcendence.  Others are about mistakes and consequences.  Still more is about defining what it means to be a Christian and how that translates into the work I do to fulfill the meaning of it all.

The gift is in not being tainted.  My life is richer for the travel.  I’m made better for having taken risks rooted in a faith beyond my fears.  Moving forward is filled with a level of sadness, but the voice that echoes beyond this present moment compels me to seek the what beyond the now. 

My faith is carrying me.

God’s love has carried me through places where others were too afraid to follow.  I have addressed topics that made friends into foes.  I’ve been amazed by the power of words.  They are capable of shifting the culture of love into a battlefield of division. I’ve grieved over the humiliation of scorn caused by popular opinion.  I’ve asked that we all do better.  I’ve used my own life as an example of being humbled by errors made in the heat of emotion.  I’ve refused to compromise the purity of love for the sake of personal comfort.

This has been a heavy cross.

There are no regrets for grabbing hold of the cross.  My love for those I meet is much too deep to place my own needs above the call to serve.  How often have I prayed, “not my will, your will be done?”  That prayer preceded every sermon given in the midst of rejection.  Yes, there have been times when I’ve preached love and hope while carrying far too much to bear on my own. Yes, it has been God’s grace and mercy that has endured while my heart ached too much to take another step.  Yes, I have cried more than I want to admit because of being misunderstood and for being underappreciated.

None of that has mattered. 

What matters are the people God allows me to meet along the road few travel.  I have listened to their stories.  I’ve begged God to help me do better at helping them find a way. Who are they? What are their names?  They are legion. There are too many to list.  I carry each of them in my spirit and continue to pray for them to find a way.

There’s the 74 year-old woman I met the other day on the bus.  In her arms she held her great-grand child who she is raising because the baby’s mother abandoned him.  “God will bless me,” she shouted while telling me the story.  I pray for her.

There’s Angela.  She called me last week to inform me she is being evicted.  All after her disability check was reduced due to the part-time job she took to make those ends meet.  She makes less than $700 a month. She has 7 children, five under the age of 10.  I pray for her.

There’s a beautiful woman in Raleigh who has repeatedly been raped.  She was raped by family members and treated like sex play by every man she has ever met.  Now she flips between relationships with men and women because the pain is too deep to accept the possibility of deserving true love.  I cry for her whenever I think about the desperation in her voice when she shared her story.  I pray for her.

There’s a gay man who begs for money on 9th Street.  He talked to me about his father, a minister, and how he has been kicked out and ridiculed by his family due to his orientation.  He shared with me being beaten by men, being robbed and taunted by those who refuse to see the humanity beyond his tight shorts and loud mouth.  I pray for him.

I pray for all the broken addicts who come to me for help.  They have no church home.  I pray for those with criminal records who can’t find work.  I pray for all the women and children overcoming all forms of abuse.

I pray and weep.  I pray because of my faith.  I weep because I can’t do more to change their condition.  My words have been a plea for more to rise above their own quest for more than enough.  My throat is bruised after screaming for more to walk this path with me.

This work has not been limited to the walls in the building.  My step away from the pulpit, for a season, elevates me to different platforms.  The message has not changed.  The purpose is the same. My work has shifted to embrace, even more, those crying from the wilderness.  I have not walked away from them.

I continue to need your support.  You will hear more from me within the next few weeks.  Until then, please join me in saying goodbye to ministry from a Durham pulpit on Sunday, September 2 at Compassion.  We worship in the chapel at the Calvary UMC, 304 E. Trinity Avenue.  Service begins at 9:30 am.

“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).  It’s morning time.


  1. God speed on your journey, my friend. My life is richer for having known you. May God richly bless your next steps.

  2. Your work and your passionate commitment to the overall well-being of your fellow man, especially that of the spirit, has not gone unnoticed Rev. Kenney. May God continue to bless you. You are loved, unconditionally.

  3. I'm sad to read this but I'm happy to have been apart of Compassion during my 6 year stint in Durham. You all were like a family to me and I thank God he placed Glenda in my life. She introduced me to the church and from my first visit I was hooked. I'll never forget you (PK) or anyone else from that area of my life. I wish you God's best Pastor Kenney!!

    - Keisha Findley

  4. Carl, my friend, my brother your commitment to the humanity and dignity of all people is simply taking a different form. All the best as you move forward.


  5. I grieve with you, especially for the partners of Compassion. But as this journey ends, I'm certain that another is starting.