Making Up the Difference - Barbara Wendland - Vanderbilt Divinity School

Mrs. Barbara Wendland is the founding donor of the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice and the author of Connections Online and the book Misfits: The Church’s Hidden Strength. The following are her edited remarks at the opening of the inaugural event on April 10, 2019, where she was the guest of honor:

It is a delight and a pleasure for me to be part of this new undertaking. And in a way I feel like I shouldn't get all this credit for making a gift for it because financial things and money are really not my interest or my strong point. So in a way it's odd for me to be rewarded for that or congratulated for it.

Yet, the people really responsible for this gift being possible are to begin with, my parents Jo and Louise Cook, who started barely scraping by in their younger life. My father was the first in his family to graduate from college. He was among the first one-hundred graduates of University of Texas Business School.

My mother did not get to go to college because her family could not afford it. She was valedictorian of her high school in a small town in Arkansas, and she had a tuition scholarship to the University of Arkansas as a result. But her family still could not send her to college even with that help. She wrote a letter to the President of the university to ask if there was a way she could work her way through college and earn the necessary money. He wrote her back saying, no, there are no jobs available for women.

What she would have needed to go was $320. That was the difference between her being able to go to college and not.

But when she and my father married, they made up their mind that if they ever became financially able to help others, they wanted to be able to do that. And they did so throughout their later life. This program is one of the things that indirectly comes as a result of that.

The other person that I am indebted to for making this possible is my husband, Erroll Wendland, who died not quite a year ago. Unlike myself, he was interested in and competent in all kinds of financial affairs, so he managed a lot of the funds that we are able to receive from. I'm so grateful to him for doing that. Certainly, if he could be here today, he would be just as happy about this program as I am.

As far as the church is concerned, I am not just a church dropout but a church reject. I am a lifelong Methodist and had always been very active in the Methodist Church until recent years. Things changed so much in my local church that my husband and I felt we could not bear to be there every Sunday morning anymore. A few weeks later I got an email – not from the senior pastor but from one of the associate pastors – saying she had been instructed to have no further contact with my husband and me. So that's the way my life in the church has turned out.

As a reject, and as what now might be called "The Done"—the people who feel like they're done with church things, I'm delighted to be part of what the church does in other ways, including programs like this one.

I’m so delighted with the work that Joerg, and now Marcus, are doing. And to so many of you that are a part of this program, I thank you for being here. Thank you for your support of this program. It's an honor for me to be part of it.

Click here to read a recap of the event and see photos.