Each year, it is my honor as Bishop to consider the presentation of a special award to folks from around our diocese. The award is known as “The Bishop’s Shield”. It is awarded to those who have contributed significant and sustained leadership in the life of the diocese (or in the life of the general church beyond the diocese) for which they were not compensated. This award may go alike to members of the clergy or members of the lay order. The key criteria are those words in boldface above: significant, sustained, and leadership. Nominees for the award are solicited each fall from the clergy of the diocese and from past, Bishop’s Shield recipients (who serve as a nominating committee of sorts), but anyone may nominate a person they believe to match the criteria. Usually, the awarding of Bishop’s Shields takes place at the banquet on the first evening of the diocese’s Annual Convention.
This year only one person was nominated who met the criteria, and it was immediately crystal clear that awarding the Bishop’s Shield at the banquet would not be as appropriate as another, very available setting.
Each year the youth of the diocese come together on the same weekend as our Annual Convention for a Diocesan Youth Gathering (or “D.Y.G.” as it is more commonly known). The person who was nominated and selected was going to be volunteering as a youth leader at DYG, so the Saturday evening banquet at DYG was the perfect place to present the award.
Here’s what I said on that occasion:
“Tonight, I have the honor of presenting the Bishop’s Shield to someone who is here at the DYG banquet. Before I announce his name, I want to share with you some of the things this person’s nominators wrote about him, and there were several nominators.
‘I have to wonder how many hours each day this person is in intercessory prayer. It must be a substantial portion of his waking hours. If he says, “I’m praying for you,” he really is praying every day. And you’d better let him know if your problem has been relieved, or he’ll still be praying for you next year.
What a privilege it is to be his priest. He brings to me people … who need God’s help so that I can pray for them too. Often, it is his presence in the lives of others that is the avenue of God’s grace in their lives, and his loving relationship with many who are now adults, whom he has known since he was their teacher in grade school, is what often keeps them on healthy paths. Sometimes, I think that God uses his loving obedience as the answer to those prayers.
His ministry to youth in the diocese is legendary. He is part of everything youth-related and has been for decades. Whenever I have attended a diocesan youth event, he is there. From planning events to taking aside a single kid who needs special attention, he is there. Whenever the other youth leaders need a leader, he is there, and has been for decades.’
Have you guessed yet? Would it help, if I told you that ‘he’ is actually a ‘she’? Now do you know? To end the suspense, it is my great pleasure to announce to you the newest recipient of the Bishop’s Shield is Duchess Wall.”
ASIDE – this announcement was followed by squeals of delight, thunderous applause, and a roar of approval from the youth and adult leaders present. Duchess responded with open-mouthed disbelief. After placing the award around her neck, I continued …
“My introduction to this award was written by Fr. Jonathan Frazier, the Rector of St. Peter & All Saints, KC, Duchess’ home parish. I played fast and loose with the pronouns to enhance the surprise, but I am grateful to Fr. Jonathan and the many folks who think so highly of Duchess that they nominated her for a Bishop’s Shield.
Here are a sample of more comments from Duchess’ many nominators:
‘If there are youth involved in any kind of activity in the Diocese of West Missouri, Duchess Wall has been, is, and always will be there. The fact that she has been and still is a teacher and can walk into almost any school and see “her kids” is amazing. At times it seems that Duchess invented the Youth Group! Those of us in our late 50s, and our grandchildren as well, know Miss Duchess as a Youth leader. She will share stories with you about her kids that are veterinarians, teachers, nurses, and priests. We will never outgrow being her kids and that’s absolutely fine with us! From Happening to Cliff Springs, from Missionpalooza to WEMO, from EYE to parish lock-ins, “Duchess is here, we can start now!”’
Ann Lagrange, vestry member, St. Peter & All Saints, Kansas City
‘What can one say about Duchess Wall? I have known her many years, and of course, there are stories, but nothing speaks more about her than what she has done for and with all of the youths in this Diocese for a long time now. When asked to help with any youth event, her answer is always “yes”. So many children who have become adults now in this diocese know her still as Miss Duchess, including my own adult children. I still call her that myself all the time. She never tires of serving the youth of the Diocese of West Missouri, and we are indeed blessed by her presence with those youth for all of these many years.’
Rob Walker, Clerk of the Vestry, St. Peter & All Saints, Kansas City
‘What a wonderful choice Duchess is to be a nominee for the Bishop’s Shield. Though my history with Duchess is shorter than others, I have been able to observe Duchess as well as spend some time with her to know some of her spiritual heart and love for the Church and especially the youth of our parish and Diocese. I have never seen Duchess without a smile. Ever. She speaks and thinks so caringly about others and especially of children and young people. Her background in education seems to have been less of a job to her and more of pure passion. She has great empathy for children. Her work with youth groups goes back years. She willingly and selflessly still gives of her time and talents for encouraging and directing youth activities. She is a great example of God’s love to them. Duchess and I were in a small group during one Advent season doing some spiritual direction. I remember thinking her heart and spirit shine through her eyes and smile. She lives her faith and spreads a positive spirit in all that she gives. She believes in her faith wholeheartedly and by that she is contagious in her love of Jesus. She ends all her e-mails “Jesus loves you more”. Unspoken and in speaking she talks with grace and truth. She has been and continues to be a special advocate, leader, and teacher of young people.’
Carol Miller, Sr. Warden, St. Peter & All Saints, Kansas City
‘Right Reverend Sir, I would like to nominate Duchess Wall for a Bishop’s Shield award. Duchess has been a stalwart of youth ministry in the Diocese of West Missouri for the more than 30 years I have known her. She has seen all the changes in youth ministry in the diocese, from the early days of Cliff Springs Camp through the early days of Happening being introduced in the diocese. She has continued to be involved as youth ministry participation has risen and fallen through the years. She continues to be involved to this day as a chaperone at youth events. Her ministry of presence for those she refers to as “my kids” has never lagged. I know that I would not be the person I am today without her ministry of presence in my life, both as a youth participating in the diocesan youth ministry program in the 1980s and early 1990s and as a someone still involved in youth ministry today. All of this work is in addition to her ministry at her local congregations of All Saints, Kansas City, and now at St. Peter & All Saints, Kansas City.’
Curtis Hamilton, Secretary of the Diocese & member of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City
Congratulations, Duchess, and thank you for your many years of caring for and nurturing the youth of West Missouri. Your Bishop’s Shield is well deserved and fully earned. May God bless your future ministry in the name of Christ Jesus.