On Friday morning I was devastated to learn of the completely unexpected death of my dear friend and colleague, Rev. Paul Shultz.
I first met Paul in 2009, after I was elected to serve as a representative on the coordinating committee of the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association (UMCMA), an organization dedicated to support and advocacy for UM college pastors and chaplains, and campus ministry, in general. It was a situation where I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. This was an organization in crisis and in steep decline. It wasn’t even clear if I’d serve out my term because the organization probably wouldn’t be around much longer. At our first re-visioning meeting I quickly made friends with a few of the other members, including Paul. They were friendships that ended up being some of the relationships I cherish most, today.
Over the next few years I enjoyed being able to work with, and learn from Paul, as we worked diligently to re-vitalize UMCMA, put on a bi-annual training event, and draft, then advocate for General Conference legislation that strengthened campus ministry throughout The UMC. During this time, not only did UMCMA stabilize, it flourished, largely in part to the tireless commitment and dedication of Paul Shultz.
While we worked hard we also had many opportunities to relax and get to know one another better. Paul impacted my life in a number of ways: he introduced me to IPAs (to my knowledge he had yet to find a beer that was too “hoppy” for him), made me laugh (perhaps harder than any other human being ever has) counseled me through some difficult personal and professional situations, and much, much, more. I’ll always chuckle when I think about the time that he yelled at the doorman at a Nashville bar for insisting on carding author/theologian Peter Rollins. There was also the time he included the phrase, “we are but a humble group of campus ministers,” in an e-mail response to another major speaker/theologian’s agent, while trying to negotiate a large discount on the speaker’s fee… the agent never responded and we lost the opportunity to have the speaker at our event. I was so mad at him, at the time, but it quickly became one of our favorite things to laugh about.
One of the hardest parts about leaving campus ministry was leaving my role with UMCMA, because I knew it meant I wouldn’t get to see Paul, and other good friends/colleagues at planning meetings and events. Regardless, we all still kept in touch and we managed to have a reunion when I led a workshop at the UMCMA gathering in Denver, last July. I can’t believe that would turn out to be the last time I would see Paul, in person, but it was a great visit and I’m deeply grateful for that.
Paul could be very stubborn and he never backed-down from a challenge or a bully. It was a quality that actually served him fairly well, but it also kept him from seeking medical treatment for what is currently assumed to have been a severe case of the flu. I know I will eventually forgive him for that, but for now, I find myself angry with him for not going to the ER when his symptoms continued to get worse.
Paul was extremely generous. This past Christmas Eve I received a notification that Paul had made a generous online donation to the church I pastor. Our church had made a commitment to give away 100% of our Christmas Eve offering to local non-profits. However, when I thanked him for the donation he insisted that we put it towards the general church budget, because he knew it would help us. Sorry, Paul, we still gave it away to local non-profits.
I’ll remember Paul the most, though, for his advocacy for those whose voices were limited and marginalized.
He was deeply concerned about the growing trend of closing stand-alone UM campus ministries, believing they are key ministries and outposts for supporting young adults throughout their college careers. Much of the legislation he wrote and helped get passed at General Conference was related to protecting and strengthening our denomination’s campus ministries and chaplaincies. He also believed campus ministries were a vital prophetic voice and presence on our college campuses. Paul was a staunch advocate for an all-inclusive Church. He made sure The Wesley Foundation at The University of Iowa was an open and affirming place for LGBTQ students, despite criticism from others.
Paul, regrettably, I can’t make it to your funeral, but on Tuesday I’m going to raise a glass of the hoppiest craft beer I can find and offer this toast to you:
Here’s to great memories from Nashville, Tampa, and Denver. Here’s to the amazing work you contributed to The United Methodist Church, campus ministry, and the fight for justice and equality. Here’s to a great mentor and friend. Here’s to all the people you loved, the people who love you, and all the many lives you touched throughout your life. As we struggle through the tears, the anger, and the pain, may we remember your impact in our lives and on our world, each and every day.
I miss you.
I love you.
Rest well, friend.
Cheers and amen.