A family vocation: three YDS alumni, a dozen decades of ministry

By: 
Caleb Bedillion ’15 M.A.R.

Family ties are not all that bind together Kathy Turner, her husband Greg Turner, and Greg’s father, Dale Turner. All three are graduates of Yale Divinity School and between them, the Turners have dedicated more than 130 years to ministry as chaplains, parish ministers, and religion writers. 

And their ministries have not gone unrecognized.

Most recently, Kathy ’69 M.Div. received the Helen Flanders Dunbar Award in 2013 from the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education. The award has been given annually since 2002 and recognizes significant contributions to the CPE movement and the ACPE.

A trailblazer for inclusivity

In conversation about the award, Kathy was reticent to discuss her accomplishments, but Greg ‘70 M.Div. was quick to explain that the award had been given in recognition of Kathy’s “pioneering contributions” over the course of many years to transform CPE into a more inclusive experience, particularly for women. Herself a trailblazer within the CPE ranks, Kathy has been well-prepared and well-situated to enact change.

Kathy came to YDS planning to enter the field of social work at a time when the wider world of the church was not hospitable to women seeking a career in ministry. Kathy’s career goals were partially formed in response to the extent to which church pulpits of the time were closed to women.

“I decided very early I wanted some kind of church vocation,” remembers Kathy. But she also remembers the uncertainty that sense of vocation entailed. “I didn’t know what it was going to be since I couldn’t be a minister.”

After a year at YDS, Kathy’s thoughts began to shift. Rather than attempt to do ministry “under the table,” she decided instead to “go all the way with it.”

Kathy became an Acting CPE Supervisor in 1970 and a Full Supervisor in 1979. She was one of the first female supervisors in the program at a time when there were perhaps a half dozen female supervisors nationally. Much later, she became the first female president of the ACPE and served during the 1992-93 year.

Throughout her involvement with the ACPE, Kathy has worked to reshape the curriculum and increase understanding of the power relations that exists between supervisor and student. Above all, her goal has been to ensure that CPE becomes more “hospitable” as a form of ministry.

During her ACPE presidency, Kathy worked to further expand her efforts toward inclusivity.

“At that point we were starting to really look at international ethnic and racial issues and how that needed to impact our curriculum,” she said.

What the classroom cannot teach

With so much time invested in the program, Kathy traced her passion for it back to her own CPE experience at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“It was that time where you get a sense of what pastoral authority really means,” Kathy said of her time serving at the hospital.

The practical, immersive experience of CPE provides the basis for “foundational pastoral skills,” said Kathy. CPE is a vital time to implement what has been learned in the classroom but also to learn what the classroom cannot teach.

“I have continued over my entire ministry career to be a CPE supervisor because I believe in the transformation that occurs in that process,” she said. “A lot of the students come in thinking it’s like a class. It’s really something that’s much more inward focused on transformation and learning how to integrate what you believe with your ministry.”

While at YDS, Kathy met Greg and the two were married in 1966. Greg, who would go on himself have a long career in parish ministry, was both a second generation minister and a second generation YDS student. Greg’s father, Dale Turner ’43 B.D. pastored Congregational churches in Lawrence, Kansas and Seattle, Washington. For over 20 years he wrote a religion column for The Seattle Times.

A legacy of linking theology and ministry

As with Kathy, Dale’s ministry was motivated by concerns for the marginalized and excluded. Greg still recalls the evening Martin Luther King Jr. spent at the dining room table of his childhood home in Lawrence, Kansas.

Greg described his father as someone who “never ducked a social issue.” “He was very involved in all the issues that came along,” said Greg. “Civil rights, empowering women for ministry, you name it.”

After a long career in the pulpit, Dale became a published author at age 80 at the prompting of friends and colleagues. Dale passed away in 2006 at age 88, but his ministry remains vibrant. Dale’s books continue to circulate and include collections of his sermons, newspaper columns, and a children’s book.

The Dale E. Turner Scholarship fund, established in 1993, has grown significantly to be one of the largest such scholarships at YDS. It currently has an endowment of more than $1.1 million and when possible supports students from the Pacific Northwest studying at YDS.

“I’m sure dad would be very pleased with that,” said Greg of the scholarship fund’s growth and success. “He had a high priority on being supportive of education. YDS was very important to him.”

In reflecting on the role played by YDS within Dale’s life as well as their own lives, Greg and Kathy both emphasized the depth of theological engagement enabled by study at YDS. But they also emphasized the need to link that engagement with the work of ministry.

This necessary link – between theology and ministry – proves itself yet another link between the members of the Turner family.

Said Greg, “Dad would say, ‘How do you put it [theology] on a shelf that everyone can reach?’ I think Kathy would say, ‘How does this deal with actually ministering to someone in a difficult situation?’ For me it was always about ‘How do you translate this into parish life?’”

Date Posted: 
2014-07-14 04:00
Notes Issue Month: 
July
Notes Issue Year: 
2014