She was leading spiritual retreats and thinking about further ministry. “But I couldn’t become an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church because you have to be able to move wherever you’re appointed,” Warren says. “My husband (Charles H. Warren, a general district judge for Mecklenburg and Lunenburg counties in Virginia) has to live within the county, so that wasn’t an option.”

Lee Warren reading to children after lunch at Haiti Outreach Ministries School

Warren longed to pursue her love for theological study and decided to earn a degree at Duke Divinity School. With her husband’s enthusiastic support, she spent four years commuting to Durham, where she spent much of the week before returning home on weekends. Sometimes she shared a hotel room with fellow women commuters; other times she rented a room in the home of a UMC clergy’s widow. She served three of those years as a student pastor, juggling her studies with pastoral duties.

Those were “four of the happiest years of my life,” says Warren, a magna cum laude graduate who is as fit as she is energetic. She teaches yoga and Pilates, and is eagerly anticipating the arrival of her first grandchild in August.

At Duke, she especially enjoyed her Old Testament classes and was influenced by the life and teachings of Peter Storey, Williams professor emeritus of the practice of Christian ministry, and a former bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

When she introduced Storey at the Virginia Annual Conference’s banquet for the Methodist Federation for Social Justice, Warren remembered his response to a personal question she had asked him about tithing.

“Lee, it’s not about how much you give,” said Storey, who served as chaplain to Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment at Robben Island. “It’s about how much you keep.”

Those words continue to “challenge and haunt” her, she says.

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