Reflections on K C Ptomey: Providing Room for All at the Table

“Auld Lang Syne” is a Scots poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song. It is well known in many countries, especially (but far from exclusively) in the English-speaking world; its traditional use being to celebrate the start of the New Year at the stroke of midnight.

The sentiment of the song also provides us with the opportunity to reflect on those who have passed on and left us this year.

KC Ptomey was the head minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville for more than 25 years. He passed away in May 2013.KC Ptomey

I knew him for 17 years in a number of roles but had not been in contact with him for several years, as I had moved 2500 miles away and we all know about distance.  I was saddened when my daughter (who had also moved to another state) called and shared the sad news.

I read online one of the eulogies shared by one of his colleagues, Theodore Wardlaw of Texas.    Wardlaw shared a sentiment that was so expressive of KC – that of sharing.      K C was planning his seventieth birthday party and the news from his oncologist advised him it was likely his last. The birthday was to be at a rented beach house in North Carolina and KC advised his friend of the most important requirement for the house on that beach.   It had to have a table large enough to seat eleven people.  He wouldn’t consider extending the length with a card table or two, lest anyone there feel like second-class citizens; no, the table had to be large enough for at least 11 people, with space underneath for two dogs.

KC was a great storyteller and his sermons were to the point, meant to be relevant and meaningful to the person hearing it.   He was a great listener and made everyone feel included, even if he might not be in agreement with a particular issue.

Being the head minister in a large church for 25+ years has made some people vain or egotistical, but KC remained true to his beliefs and avoided the pitfalls.    Another story shared in this eulogy was one I had never heard from KC, which was like him because he remained grounded. This was a different story about “Providing Room for All at the Table.”

From the Wardlaw eulogy         It happened  in the early 1960’s in Memphis.   These were still days of deeply-defended segregation in the South, and many churches there had strict policies against welcoming people of color to worship.  Lines were deeply drawn between the white establishment and the other races; but change was in the air. One Sunday, three white students at Southwestern College at Memphis—what became Rhodes College—went with African American students to worship at Second Presbyterian Church, the largest and most powerful Presbyterian church in town.  These three students went with three students of color on a Sunday morning to worship at that church, and at the doors of that church, they were all turned away.  It was church policy.  Almost immediately, the story hit the Associated Press and the United Press International, and it ricocheted around the country and across our communion.  The Presbyterian General Assembly was to have had its annual meeting at that church in the following year, and, because of this story’s power, leaders in our communion elected another venue for the General Assembly. 

 A historian who recounted this story said that it was huge in those days to defy the cultural norms like that.  “These young men were bravely defiant,” he said.  “They risked their necks; they could have been beaten up.”  Yet all three of those white students were formed by that moment.  Each one went on to go to seminary and to become Presbyterian ministers, and one of those students was K.C. Ptomey.  Even as a college student, he had to do something; because the table wasn’t large enough.

The Presbyterian Church is one with a history back to Scotland , so you can see the link to “Auld Lang Syne”. Many Presbyterian denominations work together with other Reformed denominations of other traditions, and KC was always one to reach out to as many people as possible.

KC’s commitment to the philosophy of a large enough table was central to his being.   I appreciated his values, his intellect, his sense of fair play and more.  Thank you for your commitment to so many people, so many times.

Success does not come by accident or chance.

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John.Hogan@HospitalityEducators.com or 602-799-5375

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 Dr. John Hogan CHA CHE Oct 2010 MinneapolisJohn Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events. He is CEO and Co-Founder of www.HospitalityEducators.com , which delivers focused and affordable counsel in solving specific challenges facing hospitality today.

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