Penn marks a decade in nursing home ministry

Published in The Thomaston Times,

April 8, 2002 page 1A


April 3, 2002, will mark a special anniversary for gospeler Dwain W. Penn - ten years visiting the residents at Thomaston Health and Rehab. That may not be so unique to some, but to Penn, it is what he calls his occupation.

"I was visiting this nonagenerian every week for five years," remembered Penn, "when suddenly one day she asked me what I did for a living. Amused by her question, I quipped wryly, 'exactly what I am doing now!' She wrinkled her brow and observed that the pay must be awful. My volley to the comment was, 'but the benefits are out of this world!'"

Since 1992, the visits have expanded to include Riverside and most recently Providence. But to understand what motivates this preacher, one has to go back to the beginning. Penn was born in 1955 in north Upson County.

           "Mama wanted to name me Dwight," mused Penn, "but Daddy, a staunch democrat, did not want a son named after a prominent republican of that era."

Penn attended Atwater elementary, R. E. Lee high school and earned a BS in architecture at Southern Tech. It was during his senior year at college that Penn's mother was diagnosed with and died of brain cancer.

"I delayed my education for 3 months to be with the family and deal with the trauma," said Penn. "But the extra time for thinking led to my salvation on a warm summer night in 1977."

He felt the call to preach almost immediately, but postponed the decision for five years. In the mid '80s, Penn embarked on an exciting ministry preaching on the streets of downtown Thomaston and several other Georgia cities.

"I was arrested in Milledgeville for preaching," recalled Penn, "It was exciting to experience some New Testament persecution."

The street ministry lasted exactly two years, opening only limited opportunities to preach in church pulpits. Desiring to be a more fruitful servant, Penn started sharing the Word through theatrical dramas, starting with the Apostle Paul in 1988. Within one year the outreach tripled with the addition of Father Abraham and Jesus. The effort was so successful, Penn quit a $20,000 per year job in 1990 to enter the full-time faith ministry and attend seminary. It was during his studies in seminary that he began the visits at the nursing home to earn credits for his degree.

"I was visiting paternal relatives for selfish reasons," confessed Penn, "but God quickly turned that around to bless everyone involved."

By Spring 1995 Penn had expanded the dramas to include King David and Isaiah. But his creative mind did not wane after the fifth drama.

"Pastors, friends and family kept requesting that I do certain historical men and create programs for the advent season," gasped Penn. "The work is exhausting, but so rewarding."

In 1998, Penn was called as the preacher of a small Baptist church in Concord, which inspired the creation of Rev. Walter Dubois.

"New Hebron is a special church," explained Penn. "It meets once a month, every third Sunday at 3 p.m. and it has no members. It had one when I was called, but shortly after he died.   The church is ninety five years old and has the original pews and pulpit. That quaint atmosphere all but demanded that I create a southern preacher that wears knickers and preaches powerful sermons with a generous dose of humor. The strongest medicine always tastes better with a little sugar."

As of early this year, the ministry's repertoire is most impressive. In addition to the five Bible dramas, Penn has added Abraham Lincoln, Jonathan Edwards - an 18th century puritan, Charles Wesley - cofounder of Methodism, Rev. Dubois, and for the advent season, St. Nicholas and Ebenezer Scrooge.

Work is now in progress for two more secular dramas. On Tuesday, April 23, Penn will present Ludwig van Beethoven at the R. E. Lee auditorium. Beethoven has Christian ties to the Bible through the works of Shakespeare.

"The connection is most controversial," explained Penn. "Shakespeare was one of fifty scholars chosen by King James I to revise the Holy Bible and history shows that Beethoven was a great fan of Shakespeare's works." The local talented teenage duo of Aimee Noelle Stephens and Heather Meredith Stephens will render the musical pieces.

Late next year, Penn will complete his secular work with a proper finale - Admiral William Penn the Quaker. Research has revealed that Dwain is kin to William.

"I have had a fascination for cousin Willie since grade school," quipped Penn. "Like the Apostle Paul, William was imprisoned for religious reasons and did most of his writing while incarcerated."

The drama ministry, known most recently as The Gospeler, has been very successful. In almost 14 years, Penn has traveled over 31,000 miles, ministering 285 times in 92 churches spanning 12 denominations in 7 states.

"I only wish that I could have done more," said Penn. "I may keep a packed suitcase at my door, if it would help. I am willing to go anywhere, anytime for any amount. My only priority is to share the Word of God." Meanwhile, Penn will continue to make his faithful weekly pilgrimage to visit his dear friends at the local nursing centers.

For more information about the Beethoven concert or The Gospeler ministry, Penn can be reached at 770-567-4113 or by writing The Gospeler, P. O. Box 101, The Rock, GA 30285.