SUMMARY VOCATIONAL BIOGRAPHY
BART W. MILLESON:
Ordained Elder (1985) with The United Methodist Church
1983-2020: served seven appointments in a wide variety of settings in the Western N.C. Conference; semi-retired in 2020
2020: Founder of Jesus’ Friends Are Our Friends Too, L.L.C.
Consultant, Coach, Mentor, Author
B.A. Psychology Pfeiffer University 1980
M.Div. Duke Divinity School 1983
Doctor of Ministry Wesley Theological Seminary 2002
“Crafting Eucharistic Friendship Across Cultures” 2001
A GLIMPSE OF MY VOCATIONAL JOURNEY
From 1983-2020, as an ordained elder, I served seven different appointments in the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church. During these seasons of ministry, I served in a variety of contexts including rural, town, suburban, and inner city.
Over the years, I discovered a variety of reasons churches get “stuck.” As I reflect upon my own journey following Jesus: “the way, the truth, the life;” it has become increasingly clear that one significant way the triune God of love sets us free occurs when we seek Christ-like friendships with persons across suspicious (often unexamined) societal scripts that invite us to place persons in better than/lesser than categorizations.
Throughout the years, I discovered that one way God sets us free occurs when we follow Jesus into deeper friendship across social categorizations such as gender, ethnicity, age, nationality, place of origin, ancestry, language/accent, religion, sexual orientation, physical body, physical ability, education, profession, position/role.
Bart, and wife, Helen Milleson
High Rock Lake Summer Ministry
Leonard Fairley & Bart Milleson
WHY AM I SO PASSIONATE ABOUT Jesus’ Friends Are Our Friends Too?
When I was thirteen years old, our family moved from the hills of Western Maryland to Lexington, North Carolina. Prior to this move, I had not yet entered a relationship with someone across ethnicity. Soon after we moved, I became friends with Richard, a black American. We worked together in the restaurant at Holiday Inn. Over time, Richard started to come over to our house to play basketball, share meals, and visit. Soon thereafter, a concerned neighbor stopped by to visit my mother and father. I eavesdropped as I heard our neighbor say, “You are from the North. You don’t know what it’s like down here. You can work with ‘em, but you can’t invite them over to your house. You can work with ‘em but you can’t be friends with ‘em. If Bart keeps doing this, his only friends will be black. White people will think those are the only friends he can get.”
Stunned, shocking silence, and a long pregnant pause filled the air. I leaned forward to hear what would happen next. Finally, my dad responded, “Thank you for sharing your concern. We are new to Lexington. It’s true we don’t know the ways down here. I know you’re here to help us out and we appreciate it very much. Can I tell you something about who we are?” “Of course,” the neighbor answered. “We are Christians. We believe God created everyone. We believe people of all colors are equal. Bart’s friend, Richard, can come over to our house any time he wants. Even though we disagree on this, I hope you’ll still be our friend too.” The neighbor did not stay long. It was the last time he ever stopped by to visit. (My parents and I still spoke with him from time to time and we maintained a cordial acquaintanceship.)
A few years later, my mother received a call from an acquaintance who worked in the Dean’s office at Pfeiffer College. She said, “I wanted to call you and let you know that a mistake has been made and your son, Bart, was assigned a Black as a roommate. We corrected the mistake and assigned him to a white guy.” Surprised, my mother responded, “Thanks for letting me know. We hope Bart will get a Christian for a roommate. That’s what matters the most to us.”
When I arrived at Pfeiffer in August of 1977, I arrived at Foote Dorm room 38. The door was open. Leonard Fairley introduced himself to me. I smiled and shook his hand. Immediately, I felt drawn to him. Recently, I had read the series, “Ann of Green Gables.” I sensed Leonard was my kindred spirit. Apparently, without realizing it, whomever made roommate assignments changed my roommate from one black American to another black American.
Quickly, Leonard and I became dear friends. Each evening before we went to sleep, he lay down on his bed on one side of the room that was the size of a small walk-in closet and I lay down on my side of the room. I asked questions and Leonard shared his life story. As he shared many of the overwhelming challenges he faced growing up, the theme of every story centered upon the phrase: “and God raised me up.” The more Leonard talked about God and his faith, the more alive my faith became. The love of God embodied in Leonard woke me up to deeper awareness of God with us.
Over the years, Leonard and I discovered our call to become ordained elders serving with The United Methodist Church. Presently, Leonard Fairley serves as the resident bishop of The Kentucky and Central Appalachian Conferences of The United Methodist Church. We continue to be kindred spirits and dear friends. Likewise, I continue to be good friends with Richard Walker too. Of course, since then I have been blessed by many friendships across ethnicity, nationality, theological perspectives, and social categorizations.
Because of my dear friendships with Leonard and Richard and persons who appear to be quite different than me, it comes as no surprise that in the year 1999, I began focusing my ministry upon the premise: Jesus’ Friends Are Our Friends Too. God awakens us and releases us from stuck places both inwardly and outwardly by going before us to “bump us into” Christ-like friendship formation. The Body of Christ is re-membered and becomes the transforming presence of God in the world. This especially occurs when we become Christ-like friends with persons across social categorizations.