CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Rev. Lawton Posey spent 20 years ministering to his flock at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. For 12 of those years, as a hospital chaplain, he also tended to the emotional and spiritual needs of patients and families at Saint Francis Hospital.
He wasn't called to the ministry by a lightning-bolt epiphany. It just kind of happened. God's work quietly found him along the way.
Local newspaper readers know him better as a prolific contributing writer of book reviews, spiritual essays and editorial commentary covering everything from bygone days to politics.
At 77, retired from the pulpit since 1999, he remains an engaging conversationalist, a philosopher, a deep and progressive thinker.
The serenity, the relaxed, comforting persona, reflects a preacher more attuned to one-on-one pastoral care than rousing Sunday morning sermons.
Few know that he is totally deaf. He thanks God -- and his surgeon -- for the cochlear implant that revived the ability to communicate.
"I was born in Charleston, S.C., in 1935. My dad was managing a dairy farm on James Island. My birth certificate says I was brought to the Holstein Farm. It was owned by a Mr. Lawton, and that's how I got my first name.
"After my father and Mr. Lawton ended their business relationship, Dad floated around in a number of jobs because it was a kind of a second Depression in the late '30s.
"When the war started, he got a job as a uniformed civil service fireman for the Charleston naval shipyard, and we began a period of stability. He worked there for 16 years. Mother continued to teach.
"When I was about 6, I used to listen to a radio program sponsored by the Star Gospel Mission. The minister was a Methodist and had a booming voice. I remember thinking he was pretty neat.
"I also on occasion went to the Episcopal church on the island. I remember one day wrapping a piece of bathroom tissue around my neck like a preacher and looking at myself in the mirror. But I wasn't that attracted then to being a minister.
"About 1944, we left the island and moved to North Charleston. We started going to a church that was started Dec. 7, 1941. They met in a residence. It was a time of change. The congregation was very progressive.
"I was a piano student. My teacher thought I had real possibilities. But I developed a big interest in science and loved taking chemistry and decided I would go to Davidson College and major in chemistry.
"I did OK, but I knew in my heart I would never be a chemist, mainly because I had a weakness at math. And here my mother was a math teacher.
"I told my music teacher I didn't think I was going to go on. I told my chemistry professor that I had switched my major to psychology. He knew I had no future as a chemist.
"I had outstanding psychology teachers who inspired me, particularly Dr. Workman. He never forced me to think about being a minister, but he happened to be trained in ministry.
"He saw that I might have some kind of counseling career. By then, I had declared myself a candidate for ministry. I think I did that at my mother's urging because I would get half tuition.
"The ministry thing evolved with me. I was searching for myself, for what made me tick. I applied to Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, and it was a wonderful experience. They had young professors with good training. My junior year, I was hired as a Bible teacher by Ginter Baptist Church and, surprise surprise, I was paid to teach. I needed money.
"My first pastoral charge was on the Eastern Shore of Virginia across Chesapeake Bay. I was 26, and I was in charge of two 100-member congregations. Both had a lot of life in them. I was there five years.
"My hearing was beginning to decline. I had measles when I was 6 and lost all the hearing in my left ear. It would have been nice to have had some counseling in dealing with hearing loss, but it wasn't available.