Can you teach compassion?
Can you teach others to love and feel and trust?
Can you teach patience and forbearance and all the things that make a minister?
Dr. Bill Quick believed so.
Dr. Quick was the sort of mentor I didn’t know I needed. My time at Duke had been tumultuous, and by my final semester in 2012, I was more than ready to get out. I felt like a screwup. Everything was falling apart in my personal life. I had no career prospects and didn’t even know what sort of career I wanted anymore. I just wanted to get my degree, pack up my things, cut off communication with every person I’d met over the past three years, and move literally anywhere else. In fact, when things get tough nowadays, I often find myself saying, “Still not as bad as seminary.”
As I looked at the classes available to me that final semester, I remembered a tip I had received early on: “You have to take a class with Dr. Quick.” I hesitantly signed up for Stewardship and Finance more out of curiosity about the professor than genuine interest in the subject matter.
I had no idea what I had just signed up for.
On the first day of class, Dr. Quick entered the room and said in his usual calm, bass voice, “Good morning, saints.” I still identified primarily as Baptist at the time, and the language’s humor was lost on me. More than five years later, I’ll admit to rolling my eyes a bit, but Dr. Quick’s next salutation got my attention. Donning a wry smile, he added, “And good morning, sinners.” There was something knowing in his eyes. This man had an insight into the people sitting around the room. It was like he knew our personal struggles before we had voiced them. We would soon find out that, as a 45-year veteran of church-based ministry, Dr. Quick really had seen it all.
He passed around a sheet of paper to get all of our phone numbers, and throughout the semester, he called all of us regularly to check in and pray with us. He had every student write a short bio (where we grew up, denominational background, experience with the subject matter of the class, etc.), and within a week, he had every detail memorized. While most professors were always in a hurry, Dr. Quick welcomed opportunities to stop and talk in the hallways. He freely gave and accepted hugs. But I think what impressed me most was the absolute sincerity with which he ended every conversation:
Tom, I love you.
And I’m praying for you.
Please pray for me as well.
Growing up, “I’ll pray for you” was an insincere platitude at best and a veiled insult at worst, but with his genuine prayer life, Dr. Quick redeemed those words for me. As I watched his compassion and the joy with which he described church ministry, my heart (which had been hardened by two and a half years of personal dysfunction) softened. This man gave me the confidence to pursue ministry again.
Of course, my rebellious streak was pretty pronounced even back then, and several of my classmates and I took delight in quietly acting out. Periodically, we would declare a “coffee cup beer day” where several of us smuggled in our beers of choice in other containers. Dr. Quick passed me in the hallway on one such day, and when he smelled my breath, he gave his usual wry smile, reached into his pocket, and handed me a peppermint. There was no judgment in the gesture, but it was a humorous way to encourage me to do better. Dr. Quick had a way of loving people where they were and being present with them on a deeper level. He never gave a lecture on compassion. He didn’t need to. He lived out that lesson every time any of us saw him.
We stayed in touch after seminary. In fact, he was the only professor I really kept in contact with. He celebrated with me when things were going well, and he grieved with me when things were going badly. I was scared at first when I told him I would be leaving church-based ministry to do something more community-driven. After all, Dr. Quick dedicated his entire career to lifting up and repairing the institutional church; I was afraid he’d think I was giving up on the institution he loved. But then that calm, bass voice reassured me over the phone: God’s Church is so much bigger, constantly being renewed and reinvented, and the Spirit will use us wherever we are so long as we are willing. Stay willing, Tom. That conversation ended the way all the others did:
Dr. Quick, I love you.
And I’m praying for you.
Please keep praying for me too.
Dr. Quick passed away on Sunday surrounded by family after many years of illness. That light stayed strong for 84 years, and it remains strong now.
You can teach compassion.
You can teach others to love and feel and trust.
You can teach patience and forbearance and all the things that make a minister.
Dr. Quick did so, and though he’s no longer here with us in the flesh, his legacy continues in every minister, chaplain, saint, and sinner he taught and loved along the way.
Thank you, Dr. Quick.