by Laurie Oswald Robinson for WDC
In fall of 1962 when Jim Dunn was a senior at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., the local African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church invited him to be its pastor during the school year and the following summer.
So each Sunday for 12 months, Dunn preached to a racial ethnic congregation whose culture was far different from his own as a young adult Mennonite who grew up on a farm near Arlington, Kan.
That adventure, however, set the tone for a lifelong ministry shaped by many experiences that broadened and deepened Dunn, who will retire from 52 years of pastoral ministry at the end of 2014.
He will preach his last sermon Dec. 28 as pastor of Burrton (Kan.) Mennonite Church. It will close its doors after 108 years of ministry after its final worship service and concluding celebration Jan. 4 (see companion story). Dunn, 73, is retiring due to his grappling with Parkinson’s Disease.
“At Bethel I belonged to a Religious Workers’ Association, a group of students who felt a call to ministry,” he said. “One afternoon in September I got a call from a woman on behalf of Hall’s Chapel AME and she wanted to know if someone would be available to preach that coming Sunday morning.
“After no one in the group offered to do it, I called and said there was no one available. She asked, ‘What about you?’ I didn’t have an excuse, so I ended up going.”
Dunn went to the library found three sermons preached by Billy Graham. He used an amalgam of those to give his sermon, after which the woman announced that Dunn would be their next pastor, he said.
“I was a dumbfounded, 20-year-old kid,” he said. “I went to an all-white school and didn’t even know that Arlington was a racist society. … But when you are preaching and see all black faces, and see your white hands in front of you, you know you are different. You realize that the culture and values you grew up with were different, too. But that experience cemented my sense of calling to be a pastor.”
Dunn graduated from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. He and his wife Ann, whom he married in August 1964, moved to Illinois to become pastor at Carlock Mennonite Church. He was pastor for 10 years at First Mennonite Church in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., followed by working for the former Commission on Education in the former General Conference Mennonite Church. He then served as director of church relations and a campus pastor at Bethel College until becoming pastor in 1989 at First Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan.
He resigned First Mennonite in 1992 when his Western District Conference (WDC) ministerial credentials were revoked upon his confession of a sex abuse relationship. For the next four years, Dunn underwent a process with WDC that involved counseling, payment to his victim and accountability – all of which led to a re-instatement of his credentials in 1996.
“It was a terrible and an extremely lonely and hard experience,” he said. “But I can almost say now that I am glad it happened because I am a better person because of it. I felt utterly exposed to everyone in the whole world. But after a while, when you really own your sin and failure, there is a tremendous liberating sense that you are holding nothing back, and that God’s forgiveness is so real.”
His redemptive suffering led him to extend redemption to others. For eight years, he taught Bible and preaching to inmates – some of whom were sex offenders — in the Ellsworth, Kan., prison. The program was sponsored by the former Pastoral Ministries program at Hesston (Kan.) College.
Also redemptive for Dunn were the congregations that welcomed him as pastor after his renewal. In 1996 he served as interim pastor at Faith Mennonite Church in Newton, and as pastor from 1997 to 2004 at Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel, Kan., before becoming part-time pastor at Burrton Mennonite.
“I am retiring from formal pastoring with inner peace,” he said. “I’ve had joy in my ministry and a sense of God’s unconditional love, despite my struggles.”