BURRTON, Kan. — In 1962, when Jim Dunn was a senior at Bethel College in North Newton, the local African Methodist Episcopal church invited him to be its pastor.
A woman at the church had called Dunn looking for someone from the Religious Workers’ Association he was part of at Bethel to preach. The group was for students who felt a call to ministry.
“After no one in the group offered to do it, I called and said there was no one available,” Dunn said. “She asked, ‘What about you?’ I didn’t have an excuse, so I ended up going.”
Dunn, who grew up Mennonite on a farm near Arlington, went to the library and found three sermons preached by Billy Graham. He used an amalgam of those to give his sermon.
After the sermon the woman announced that Dunn would be their next pastor. He preached every Sunday for 12 months.
“I was a dumbfounded, 20-year-old kid,” he said. “I went to an all-white school and didn’t even know that Arlington was a racist society. . . . But when you are preaching and see all black faces and see your white hands in front of you, you know you are different.
“You realize that the culture and values you grew up with were different, too. But that experience cemented my sense of calling to be a pastor.”
That adventure began a lifelong ministry shaped by many experiences that broadened and deepened Dunn, 73. He will retire from 52 years of pastoral ministry at the end of 2014 because of his grappling with Parkinson’s Disease.
He will preach his last sermon Dec. 28 as pastor of Burrton Mennonite Church. It will close its doors after 108 years of ministry. Its final worship service and concluding celebration will be Jan. 4.
“I am retiring from formal pastoring with inner peace,” Dunn said. “I’ve had joy in my ministry and a sense of God’s unconditional love, despite my struggles.”
Sin and redemption
Dunn graduated from Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind. He and his wife, Ann, whom he married in 1964, moved to Illinois to become pastor at Carlock Mennonite Church. He pastored for 10 years at First Mennonite Church in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., then worked for the Commission on Education of the former General Conference Mennonite Church.
He served as director of church relations and campus pastor at Bethel College until becoming pastor in 1989 at First Mennonite Church in Newton.
He resigned from First Mennonite in 1992 after confessing a sexually abusive relationship. His ministerial credentials were revoked.
For the next four years, Dunn underwent a process with Western District Conference that involved counseling, payment to his victim and accountability. His credentials were reinstated in 1996.
“It was a terrible and an extremely lonely and hard experience,” he said. “But I can almost say now that I am glad it happened because I am a better person because of it.
“I felt utterly exposed to everyone in the whole world. But after a while, when you really own your sin and failure, there is a tremendous liberating sense that you are holding nothing back and that God’s forgiveness is real.”
His redemptive suffering led him to extend redemption to others. For eight years, he taught Bible and preaching to inmates — some of whom were sex offenders — in the Ellsworth prison. The program was sponsored by Hesston College.
Also redemptive for Dunn were the congregations that welcomed him as pastor after his renewal. In 1996 he served as interim pastor at Faith Mennonite Church in Newton and as pastor from 1997 to 2004 at Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church in Goessel before becoming part-time pastor at Burrton Mennonite Church.