Now, after recuperating from a heart attack that prompted him to step down from the active episcopacy, Carder has come to Duke to continue his work, this time as professor of the practice of pastoral formation and director of “Pulpit & Pew: The Duke Center for Excellence in Ministry.”
“We want to help get the gifts of scholarship back into the life of the church and the pastoral gifts of the church into the seminary,” says Carder. “I hope we can strength-en this partnership for the mutual benefit of God’s mis-sion in the world.”
According to those who have worked with him, it is a task ideally suited for Carder. After more than 30 years experience as a pastor in churches small and large, and 12 years as a bishop, he brings a wealth of gifts. He is partic-ularly adept at bridging the gap between theory and prac-tice, says David Lowes Watson G’78 of Nashville, Tenn.
“He takes deep theological principles and makes them concrete,” says Watson.
The director of the Office of Pastoral Formation for the Nashville Area of the UMC, Watson says Carder is a master at holding in creative theological tension the harsh reality of the world as it is and the world as God intended for it to be, the church as it is and the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to announce.
“Bishop Carder is always pointing us to the horizon, to the world as it one day will be,” says Watson. “The best way to summarize his theology is to quote the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”
Throughout his essays and sermons and even in conversation, Carder describes the church as “a sign, a foretaste, and an instrument of God’s new creation.” It’s a succinct phrase that packs a lot of theological weight, at once describing the church as something that is here now, yet always pointing to the Kingdom.
“Time and again he is reminding us of this in ways that seem to reveal the extent to which we have or have not been faithful,” says Watson.
Methodists in Tennessee and Mississippi know what Watson is talking about. For them—indeed for many Methodists anywhere in the U.S.—Carder is a bishop like few they have ever seen. Described by the Nashville Tennessean as “a compass for congregations to steer by” and “true spiritual leader,” he challenged churchgoers to reach out beyond their congregations, to step out in mis-sion to the poor and marginalized, to those in prisons, nursing homes, and housing projects. Rather than press-ing pastors for numbers on membership and giving dur-ing annual reviews, Carder asked them to describe the signs of God’s presence in their ministry.
In both states, Carder spoke out against capital punish-ment, prompting a flood of threats and opposition from within and outside the church. Inspired by the reconciliation effort in South Africa, he organized a “Journey of Remembrance and Reconciliation” and held cabinet meetings at the sites of civil rights battlegrounds in Mississippi in the 1960s.
Both Mississippi and her people were made better by Carder’s tenure as bishop, says the Rev. Vicki Sizemore-Tandy D’78.
“I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true,” she says. “He made us better. Many people changed just by his example.”
Carder appointed Sizemore-Tandy as the state’s first African-American woman district superintendent and assigned her to the Senatobia District, in the heart of the Delta.
The reaction in the churches, she says, was “Are you kidding?”
“But Bishop Carder approaches things in such a wonder-ful way, people trusted him not to do anything destructive to the church. Race is hard to overcome in the Delta, but by putting me in this area, he made great strides.”
Soft spoken and gentle, solicitous to a fault, Carder is occasionally underestimated as a pushover, but don’t be fooled, warns the Rev. Karl Netting D’71, a former associate pastor under Carder at Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
“He’s one of the best street fighters I’ve ever met,” says Netting, now a hospice chaplain in Richmond, Va. “To serve churches today, you have to have a clear vision of where you want to go and a lot of spine to back it up. Ken has both.”
In December 2001, for example, only a few months after he took office in Mississippi, Carder joined Catholic and Episcopal colleagues in Jackson in calling for the adoption of a new state flag, one without the Confederate battle flag. As a Southerner, Carder knew how controver-sial changing the flag would be. As a new arrival to the state, he could have easily taken a pass on the issue.
But he didn’t.
“I wouldn’t have chosen to deal with it as one of my first actions as bishop, but we don’t always choose the time of issues,” he says. “I felt it was an important issue at a critical time in Mississippi history, a teaching moment, whether it won or lost.”
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