First in a series, Mentors, people who made a difference in my life.

I was an inexperienced, 24 year old minister just out of seminary when I got a “job” at a church in Louisville as an “Interim Part-Time Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care.”  I still smile as I type that temporary title.

One evening after a church service, an older gentleman walked up to me and reached out his hand and said, “Hi Malcolm, my name is Wayne Oates.  I was wondering if I could take you out to lunch this week to talk about your future and what you would like to do.” (I discovered later he did this for hundreds of people through the years.)

Now the only way I could explain what this was like for me as a boy who grew up playing football in Alabama in the 60’s and early 70’s–this was like Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama walking up to me out of the blue and asking me if I wanted to be one of his assistant coaches.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  My stomach was queasy, my knees were weak, and all I could squeak out was, “Yes sir.”

You see, Dr. Wayne E. Oates needed no introduction, he had written most of the pastoral care text books I read while in seminary (he published 57 books in his lifetime).  He was the father of pastoral care for many generations before me.

And so he took me out to lunch a few days later.

He asked questions about my dreams for the future, what I would love to do if I could, and I rambled.  Just before we got up to leave, he looked at me and said, “Well Malcolm, if you will enroll in my Intern program this summer, and if I like your work and you like me, I’ll invite you to do a one year pastoral counseling residency with me at The University of Louisville School of Medicine Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic.  Think about it and let me know.”

I thought about it for ten seconds and said, “Yes sir, I would.”

Over the next fifteen months, my experience with Dr. Wayne Oates changed my vocation and my life.

He taught me how to connect quickly with a stranger, how to listen deeply to another, and to trust my intuition as a pastoral counselor.  He instilled confidence by calling me a colleague rather than student, and backed it up by insisting that I call him “Wayne.”

I have dozens of Wayne stories, for another time.

But tonight, Wayne is on my mind just before the anniversary of his death on October 21, 1999.

Thank you, Wayne E. Oates, for seeing something in me that I could not see.

It has made all the difference.

*****

Who is someone who took initiative towards you in your life and made a difference?  I would love to hear about it in the Comments section below.