Dock Hollingsworth: Growth and Personal Transformation
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Dr. Hollingsworth joined Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Buckhead as Senior Pastor on September 1, 2013 after an 18-year career with Mercer University, most recently as Assistant Dean and Assistant Professor of Leadership at Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology. He earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Mercer University and received his Master of Divinity degree from The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Prior to his Mercer employment, Dr. Hollingsworth served churches in North Carolina and Georgia. He and his wife Melissa are the parents to adult twins, Haley and Brendan, and have one grandchild, Cooper.
On the show Dock shares stories of his experiences and livelihood as a pastor, and we reflect on lessons from an interfaith journey he took to Turkey, which included the following pointers for all of us:
- Reflections on the statement, “The otherness in you is the only chance I have to grow”;
- That transformation can happen when categories become personal;
- We are all made in the image of God, but experiencing that across traditions, cultures and interests is transformative.
You can contact Dock by phone at (404) 591-4344 and by email at email@example.com and you can find out more about Second Ponce de Leon at www.spdl.org.
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This is episode # 71
A transcript of the show follows:
DOCK HOLLNGSWORTH PODCAST TRANSCRIPT
G: Dock Hollingsworth is the Senior Pastor of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Buckhead and a recent travelling companion of mine: we were in Turkey together for 10 or 12 days earlier in the year.
D: A great trip.
G: It was a fantastic time. Welcome to the studio, Dock.
D: Thank you.
G: Let’s start by just having you tell our listeners a little bit about Second-Ponce de Leon.
D: Sure, it’s one of the constellation of 3 churches on Peachtree Street in Buckhead that Altlantans know as “Jesus Junction.” The Cathedral of Saint Philip, The Cathedral of Christ the King, and between those – Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, a church that’s been on that corner 80 plus years. It was a merger of two older churches, one of the dating back to the 1700s.
G: And you’ve been Senior Pastor there for a little less than a year now, is that right?
D: September it’ll be 2 years.
G: So, describe a week in the life of a Senior Pastor.
D: My weeks tend to be front loaded. Monday morning starts with staff meeting, and kind of a Monday morning quarterbacking of our Sunday worship. What went well, what didn’t go well? How do we improve? And so forth. Mondays and Tuesdays are given to a lot of administrative details. Now, I’m describing the week as I hope it plays out, right? As a Senior Pastor, one hospital emergency, one death, changes everything in the week. But Wednesday is draft day. I get in, I start on the sermon a little before 7 o’clock Wednesday morning, take no lunch appointments before 12:30. And I put 5 hours in Wednesday, trying to just get word count. Trying to get a first draft of a sermon. And we have services Wednesday night that I try to work on Wednesday afternoon. Thursdays, I move paper in the morning. Try to take Thursday afternoon off and play golf, weather permitting. And then Friday, when the rest of the clergy staff is taking their day off – I get a lot of work done, and try to clean up a draft of a sermon that I started on Wednesday. And Sunday’s game day. Sunday is when the community gathers for worship. And Sunday school, worship, all of the things that go with that. Sunday’s just the highlight, and then the rock rolls back down the hill Monday morning.
G: Which is the day in the life, or the week in the life of Dock Hollingsworth as the Senior Pastor. In a sense got a business to run.
G: Which is the church business, and all the relationships and decisions you have to make in that context, right?
D: A $2 million budget, $20+ million in endowments, 200,000 square feet of buildings – yeah, there’s a lot of details.
G: And the board you’ve got to report to and manage?
D: That’s right.
G: And then, on top of that, all those pesky parishioners who keep on calling, and getting sick, and having family crisis. And you’ve got to go do the ministry thing.
D: That’s right; I have more bosses than anybody you know.
G: It’s a really tough business.
D: It is ongoing. I mean, it’s full time. But it’s also incredibly rewarding.
G: You told me a story about a dinner party you were at one time, and your predecessor in that role took you outside and said, “Are you sleeping yet?” Do you remember the conversation?
D: Oh, this was my, no this was my former Dean. He had become Dean at about the same age I was when I became Senior Pastor. So he had just moved into a really large role with a lot of responsibility. At about the same age, I had made that same kind of move. And he pulled me aside after a, after a dinner, and he said, “Do you get up at 3:30 in the morning?” And I thought he had cameras in my– It was just really kind of disturbing. Because I’d never had trouble sleeping, and I had – I was getting up at 3:30 in the morning. And he said, “I’ve been kind of informally talking to people who had made a big transition at about that age, just want to let you know it’s common. Here’s what you want to take. Here’s the–” He kind of normalized it for me, which was really nice.
G: And you told me, he said it would go away after a year.
D: That’s right. But yes, I was teaching leadership at the MacAfee School of Philosophy at Mercer University, before coming to be Senior Pastor.
G: So, big transition there. And then – place I want to spend quite a bit of time. You and I were in Turkey together. And I got a sense from you that your experience in Turkey was kind of a big deal. Officially it’s a secular country, but realistically it’s a Muslim nation. And there’s a lot of mosques, and a lot of – and we spent quite a bit of time in mosques and in Muslim family homes. So, it gave you a perspective on Islam and Muslims that was probably different from a good old southern boy – a good old Baptist southern boy. And you were looking at this and thinking, “Okay, so how do I bring this back home?” You’ve now had several months to reflect on that and to kinda put that into practice. But I’d like to explore that a little bit with you. Just take that one and talk about it for a little bit, and then we’ll play around with it.
D: Yeah, about 2 months after I came back, I prepared a Wednesday night presentation for the congregation. And it was really a helpful exercise, because it forced me to do the kind of reflection I needed to do anyway. And besides the – just the kind of fun pictures, what were the takeaways for me? And the biggest takeaway was the way categories became personal. And what I had to confess to you all on the trip – and also to my congregation, was that– The Bosnian conflicts, when they were on television, those were just disruptions to the Braves game to me. Those people were other than me, those were not my folks. And I spent however many hours we spent on the bus learning to love two Bosnian friends, both who were Islamic. And now those are real people for me, they’re not categories. They’re people with stories, and lives, and families, and hopes. And the same is true for people of other faith traditions. Those traditions became personal for me, and not just categories. And that’s transformative. It’s easy to talk about others if they’re categorized in ways that are not human. It is not easy to talk about folks that you know what makes them laugh, and you know about their story, and you know about their hope. It”s not easy to talk with or about those people in ways that are not human.
G: So that’s kind of a big deal for you, it’s like you plod along for however many years, and suddenly it’s like, “Boom.” Was it one of those?
D: Yeah, and I mentioned this story to you too. Another one – In one of the pictures I brought back was this little girl. The day we went to the school.
D: This little girl who might have been 11? And she leaped into my life as a human being–
D: And not an 11 year old in Turkey.
D: That was, again, a category. And to see people – one of the truths of my faith tradition is that we are all made in the image of God. And to see people as brother, sister, and to see the image of God within them, and to do that as a spiritual practice is transformative. And to do it across traditions and across continents enriched who I am.
T: This transformation– I guess the key lesson is that, if that was even transformative for someone such as yourself, that means that most of us – if not all of us, need to go through that transformation. And this far off conflict, this far off thing that was an interruption in a ball game – it was a scary thing. Because it was unknown, because there was a personal tie to it now. That applies to everything in life, from the neighbor down the street that you don’t know who seems odd because you just don’t know them. To a parishioner, to a colleague down the hall in your corporate office. For life to be meaningful, we all need to go through that transformation, yeah?
D: Right, but I think you have to develop a capacity to want it. I don’t think going on a trip does it, if you are not already trying to broaden the space inside your own soul – if you’re not doing that kind of work to start with, going on another trip isn’t going to do it. If you don’t try to do that with folks who live 2 doors down, then going somewhere else isn’t going to do it. But I do think, if you have a capacity for seeing the divine in others, then trying to stretch that capacity beyond comfortable categories is – can be transformative, yeah.
G: And transformative for clarity, transformative can be good or can be bad. I’d categorize this as a profoundly good transformation.
D: Yes, and transformative may be too strong a word. I mean this, it was just broadening.
D: It was enriching. Because this is a journey I’ve been on, right? To try to see the divine in the other. I mean, that’s hard to do with people in your own congregation you just don’t like much, right?
G: Right, right.
D: I mean so, but it’s a part of the discipline. It’s part of the– So transformative is too, too strong a word. It was broadening, it caused me to use muscles I had not used before. And I’m better for that having had that experience.
G: That’s a really good place to pick up where I’d like to go with this, which is you’ve used new muscles – you’ve found new muscles. Are these now muscles you that you feel compelled to stretch? And are you continuing to discover even more new muscles?
D: Gosh, I’d love to answer yes. I came back with a broader hope, a hope that I would do more of that. A sincere desire to search out more relationships that would stretch me. And what happened was, I got back to the inbox, and the things that were right in front of my face – and dug back into work. I have not done the kind of proactive work in those areas I would like to have done. But I also, but casually – I have picked up a new capacity.
D: Right. So now, sitting next to somebody on MARTA who has the dress of a different culture, is an opportunity for learning and stretching for me – rather than a barrier for a relationship. So in the comings and goings of my routine, I have learned a new capacity. But I have not sought out those kinds of relationships in the ways I had hoped to.
G: The other side of bringing this home – so you’d talked about how you’d went through preparing for that Wednesday night. The internal journey that forced, another side of this is so – you’re the leader of a flock. How have you shared this? And that’s a flock of many people traditionally in that, the Baptist tradition. Many people might not be very receptive to Islam as a legitimate faith. So how have you dealt with that?
D: By sharing my own broadening experience. So for instance, the Sunday I got back, I thanked everybody for the time away and all that. I said, “I look forward to telling you about my new experience. My new best friend is a 6 foot tall Muslim woman, covered head to toe. I’ve got stuff to talk about.” So just in saying that, “my new best friend is” I don’t need to engage theological argument.
D: To affirm the humanity of other persons. And so that’s the door I have come through. I have not been doing theological argument. I’ve been talking about the new relationships I’ve formed, and the new respect I have for people who are different than I am. And that’s been a – just thinking about how I will talk about that, has been a good exercise for me.
T: I’m struck by your comment of – you need to see the divine in others. And I think there’s such an important lesson to all those listening that, that’s an important exercise for all of us. Is that, that person that – that before was someone– That person in strange dress in MARTA was someone that was not approachable. But all of a sudden now is an opportunity to do some interesting things and have some interesting conversations. I think we all need to recognize that there is a soul, there is a spirit. There’s life experience, there’s happiness, there’s sadness, there’s joy in that person next to you. It’s not just some collection of matter, that’s a human being. There’s a “their” there. And, even if they aren’t necessarily of a different faith or a different culture, or even if it’s your next-door neighbor. There’s, it almost should be incumbent on you that there should be a purpose of crossing that barrier, to where you know them. And you see the divine of it, and you see that there’s something there. Because I think it enriches their life, but it really enriches yours too, right?
D: Oh, absolutely. One of my mentors, John Claypool, said to me one time when he and I were in a disagreement and I backed off, he pushed me not to back off. And the line he gave that I love so is he said, “The otherness in you is the only chance I have to grow.” And if I could discipline my own spirit to see the otherness in other people as this great gift, and this great opportunity for my own growth – rather than something that threatens, I can live in a much freer place. And so that line kept coming back to me on this trip, because I was surrounded by otherness. Not just in the country, but on the bus, right? I mean, we were surrounded by otherness.
D: And so, how to treat this as an opportunity for me to grow, and a way to let their lives into my life. That was really rich.
G: But it applies everywhere, in every way.
T: It does.
D: Oh yeah, yeah.
G: I’m going to come back to something you said a little while ago when I didn’t challenge you. I asked whether you’d found new muscles and continued to stretch? You said, “Well, I’ve reflected on that as you’ve continued to talk, and I’ve realized – actually what you’ve talked about that I think is really more powerful is that you had developed this new capacity. And the way you’ve talked about engaging with and in that capacity is really profound – the way it’s affected the person you encounter on Marta (16:01?) is an opportunity and not a barrier. And the way you talk about the other as, “my new friend.” And I’ve got to believe – I’ve encountered something in my life before where – where I realized that I’ve gone through profound changes. 10 years later – I didn’t realize at the time, they were kind of invisible to me. And I suspect a lot of this new capacity that you’re experiencing, it’s kind of hard for you to see right now? Probably a hard one to answer, if it’s hard to see.
G: But reflect on that.
D: No I think that’s fair, I think it’s, it’s trajectory, right? So the first 10 yards that the golf ball leaves the golf club–
D: May not look like it does by the time it reaches the green, right? It’s trajectory. It’s which way it’s going that can make a big difference in the long stretch. So a few weeks, a few months after our trip, it looks like new trajectory. It looks like–
D: I am exercising this in small ways, in a new direction. That yeah, 5 years, 10 years from now can look very, very different than it does right now. But it has opened up this consciousness about receiving the otherness of other people as gift. And that has a lot of promise going down the road.
G: So would the idea of putting things in play that set up new trajectory – I want to come back to what Todd and you were just exploring. Which is, this applies everywhere. So do you have thoughts for our listeners for how they might make this kind of opportunity real in their life? To kind of change their trajectories in the same kind of way?
D: There’s a disturbing trend, I think nationally – to read media outlets, listen to media outlets that only reinforce our bias. And because the media outlets are so segmented now, you can cut off hearing anything you disagree with. And if, as an exercise of treating otherness as an opportunity to grow. I think it’s just as simple as trying to listen to, and be able to be a kind, articulate defender of the other side of the argument – whatever that is. Is a way of, to grow in capacity. When we recognize for instance that most difficult decisions in business and in the national landscape are decisions between 2 values that we hold dear. By definition, it’s a difficult decision. Because you have 2 values or more values in conflict. But we’ve now started treating people who prefer one of those values a little more than the other one. If they don’t line up with us as being wrong, stupid and maybe evil, right? Because it’s this us them, black white kind of world. I think one of the ways we can work on this in the office cube – is to think about how we might articulate both sides of the argument, and see the difference on the other side as a chance for our own growth. Because if we can’t hold opposites intention, it shows very little internal capacity.
G: That is a fantastic suggestion, Dock, thank you so much. And I’m afraid, while I would love to continue this – there’s a rich vein here to explore and to open up, we’re about of time, I’m afraid, so–
D: I hate that.
G: I do too. Before we let you go, how can people get a hold of you if they want to find out either more about the church, or just to continue this conversation?
D: Sure. The website at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church is www.spdl.org. And my email link is easily navigated from that website.
G: We will put all of that on our show notes on the website, on our website. So Dock Hollingsworth of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist, thank you so much for being with us today.
D: Thank you.