Divinity students who intern with Frank Dew, chaplain of Greensboro (N.C.) Urban Ministry, often describe a new appreciation of the gospel message that “the last shall be first.”
“The respect that Frank Dew extends to each person, no matter what situation he or she is in, is so affirming that it can embolden others,” says Ellis Carson D’11. “It especially emboldens those who find that they need the services of Urban Ministry, and those who are feeling their way into the practice of ministry like I am.”
For Dew, who acknowledges that a field education assignment with him is “a rather unique offering” at Duke, the first order of business is to acquaint students with the Urban Ministry philosophy.
“I say to them right off the bat, ‘You’ll see a very vital and real day-to-day and hour-to-hour faith in the people that we serve, and you will be taught a lot by them. We are trying not so much to help [the homeless] to believe in God, but to believe in themselves—to see themselves in the light of God and to claim their worthiness and their value.’”
Shanitria Cuthbertson D’11, who is pursuing a dual master of social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and divinity at Duke, says Dew helped her step outside her comfort zone to engage those often ignored by the wider community.
“Frank gently pushes us students to expand our concept of ministry by sitting with and listening to hurting people without judgment or superficial compassion, but with love—hearing an individual’s cry,” says Cuthbertson.
During her summer placement with Dew, United Methodist Sarah Locke D’10 found herself leading worship, serving in the soup kitchen, and offering pastoral care to parents and children at the family shelter two afternoons a week.
“One day a client came wanting help to get admitted to a substance abuse clinic, and Frank gave me the opportunity to come along,” says Locke. “It was a privilege to hear him ask about this man’s family … and to see him show loving care to someone who really felt like the world was caving in on him.
“I remember thinking, ‘I hope that I can find the words to care for someone in that way.’ Later, Frank reminded me that it is not always about the words one says, but more about the way one listens and shows care. That will always be with me in my ministry.”
Dew cautions students against attempting to become the be-all and end-all in people’s lives.
“If I thought I was there to solve everyone’s problem or to fix every situation, I would have quit after two weeks, because there’s no way I can do that,” Dew says.
“But I can help people claim a new identity for themselves, which helps empower them to solve their own problems, and in the process to believe that there is a power greater that can help them deal with the difficulties they’re facing every day.”
While most of his Duke interns serve in parish settings following graduation, Dew says they take their experiences at Urban Ministry with them, and that they will be better equipped for ministry.
“It helps them to feel more comfortable in relating to the poor, and in welcoming the poor into their congregations.”
— Patrick O’Neill