Homily for Donald Edgar Mowery
St. Mary’s Cathedral
June 16, 2018
Donald Edgar Mowery, “Father Don”, was a loving and devoted husband, Episcopal priest, organizer, healer, and advocate for children; he was a true shepherd, following in the footsteps of that Great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ. Most of you are undoubtedly familiar with his life of accomplishments, and probably witnessed personally many of his successes, which were described briefly in yesterday’s newspaper and were also well-documented in a recent article in Memphis magazine, as well as in his book, “Spiritual Networking”. He leaves behind a legacy of life dedicated to providing opportunities for thousands of underprivileged children to improve their chances for success in life, and to help them try to escape the darkness of poverty and crime. What better example could there be for a man who followed the words that Jesus said to his disciples in Mark’s Gospel, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me”.
In the days of extreme civil unrest in our city in the late 1960’s, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Don welcomed little children, both black and white. Don was color-blind, and despite the tumultuous and chaotic efforts at desegregation in our community and in our nation, he plowed on with his quest to help provide places of safety and recreation for disadvantaged children in well over 100 military bases around the country. As Director of Youth Services organization, Don could be considered one of the earliest, and sincerest, of Civil Rights leaders, and for that he received an honorary award from a society dedicated to preserving the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In presenting this award to Don, U.S. congressman Steve Cohen said, “this special award is given to individuals whose lives have embodied the spirit and legacy of service, sacrifice, and hope that characterizes the the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr”.
Despite his enormous accomplishments of goodwill, Don never called attention to himself, or lost sight of the fact that he, like us, was a child of God, no better and no worse than anyone around him. He was astute and intuitive, and knew how to read the hearts and minds of those with whom he worked and had friendships, never taking advantage of a relationship or exploiting it in any way. However, as one friend said, it was hard to say “no” to Don when he asked you to join him in his efforts, and many, many people in our community and around the country did support him and his work.
In the last chapter of his book, “Spiritual Networking”, there are over 50 people who gave personal testimonies to the work Don was doing, and most likely many of them are here today. Here’s one testimony from his close friend of over 50 years, Lester Crain: “Of all the people I have known personally, socially, and professionally, Don Mowery did more to give more people hope than anyone”. A fellow priest had this to say about Don: “Don is definitely a priest of the church…many people receive the ‘call’ to serve the church, but few find themselves in the right pew. Don was certainly in the right pew and he has been able to reach more people, do more long-term good than most clergy. There are few who minister to people as well as he does”.
I recently learned a few more caveats about Don, the man. His wife, Julie, told me that she and Don dated for seven years before they got married. Don, being the careful, studious and well-prepared person that he was, certainly had no intention of acting impulsively or rushing into a decision about that most important and sacred event in his life!
It may seem hard to believe, but this gentle and soft-spoken priest also went through a period of riding motorcycles and dirt bikes! Somehow, I can’t quite get a picture of father Don decked out in black leather pants and jacket!
I heard another story about Don’s fondness for country music; it happened during a trip in Colorado with friends when the car in which they were riding began going sideways on an icy road at 55 mph! As Don’s eyes began to bulge and his heart rate rise precipitously, these words were suddenly heard on the car radio: “I don’t care if it rains or freezes, long as I have my plastic Jesus riding on the dashboard of my car…I don’t care if it’s dark or scary, long as I have magnetic Mary riding on the dashboard of my car”. Although the words got his attention, and maybe provided some comic relief, Don didn’t really need a plastic Jesus; no doubt his own prayers of faith resulted in a safe ending for those in the car that day.
For me personally, Don was not only a friend and a colleague, he was like a father-figure, and a dependable support person for me. When he found out about my plans to discern for the Diaconate, he called to say that he was proud of me, and that I had made a wonderful decision in my life, and that it would be a very gratifying experience for me, and that has certainly been the case. I was ordained on November 21, 2009, and every year, until the time of his death, he called me on November 21st to congratulate me on my ordination and tell me to continue the good work I had begun. Sometimes he would just call, to say he’d heard my sermon online and that I had a good message, or that he’d read an article I’d written for the church newsletter, and how he thought it had been well-written. His caring way and his words of affirmation touched my heart, and I will always remember his generous spirit. I don’t know how I earned the blessing of his friendship, but it has certainly been a support for my ministry and has helped to guide my own spiritual direction.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry made this summary statement recently at the Royal Wedding in London, “It’s all about love”. Don Mowery was all about love: love for his wife, his friends, his God and church, and for all those whom Jesus considered blessed, despite their lack of some of life’s necessities and luxuries: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…those from single-parent households and from neighborhoods where crime and delinquency are rampant, those recovering from substance abuse, those who have lost jobs or loved ones.
Jesus was all about love, he was the good shepherd, one who would seek out and return to safety even one lost sheep. He was willing lay down his life to protect his flock. We, who are also the sheep of his fold, are protected by his grace, even when we stray from the flock, even when we make mistakes and bad decisions, even when we seem to ignore his calling. The Good Shepherd is there for us; all we have to do is listen for his voice. His image and his voice is there in people like Don Mowery; it is there in the child asleep in his mother’s arms. It is there in the ragged man with outstretched arms on the street corner. It is right there at the altar in this sacred place.
As we continue on our earthly journey, and mourn the loss of our brother, Don, we can take comfort in knowing that he has entered the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and he has joined with the Good Shepherd, and has become the chief angel for all the youth of heaven. I have a mental picture of him smiling down on us, perhaps with these words of advice, “Keep showing up, for work, for church, for each other. Keep praying, keep singing, keep loving each other”. May you rest in peace, our dear Don; our lives have been enriched by having you in them.