Discipleship’s top executive battles cancer

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The Rev. Junius B. Dotson, the top executive of Discipleship Ministries, told his staff and board Jan. 28 that he is battling pancreatic cancer.
 
However, he also stressed that he plans to keep serving The United Methodist Church as he combats the disease.
 
“Despite the low percentage of survivors, I am determined to fight,” he said in a statement. “I intend to beat the odds. I also plan on working as long as the Lord allows.”

Dotson, 55, holds multiple denominational leadership roles in addition to helming Discipleship Ministries since July 2016.
 
He also is one of 16 church leaders who negotiated the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, the widely endorsed proposal that seeks to resolve the longtime United Methodist debate over homosexuality through a denominational split. As part of the negotiations, Dotson represented multiple centrist advocacy groups that seek greater freedom in church policies related to same-sex weddings and gay ordination.
 
The protocol needs the approval of General Conference to go forward. However, plans for the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly remain uncertain because of the pandemic. 
 
Dotson told staff he wants to be transparent about his own health challenges even as the work continues.
 
He said he first learned something was wrong with his health earlier this month when searing pain in his back and stomach sent him to the emergency room. Doctors informed him — and tests confirmed — that he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer with metastasis to the liver.

Dotson hopes to use his experience to raise awareness of how pancreatic cancer especially afflicts African Americans.

The National Cancer Institute calculates that pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of all U.S. cancer deaths, ahead of both breast and prostate cancer. About 10% of people survive five or more years after diagnosis.
 
Black Americans face increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared with other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. According to a study included in the National Library of Medicine, the incidence of this cancer has been 50% to 90% higher among Blacks than among whites in the United States.

Among the prominent African Americans who have died from the disease are singer Aretha Franklin and civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

In United Methodist circles, Dotson is also prominent.

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Before coming to Discipleship Ministries, he was senior pastor of 3,500-member Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas, for 14 years.
 
He now leads the agency that promotes disciple-making across the denomination and houses the Upper Room, publisher of prayer resources around the globe.

In his time at Discipleship Ministries, he has led the agency’s restructuring. He also initiated its “See All the People” initiative to help churches — as the nursery rhyme says — see the people in their communities and make world-transforming disciples of Jesus Christ. In promoting the initiative, he has been a frequent speaker at annual conference sessions around the denomination.
 
He is now the convener of the General Secretaries Table, which brings together the top executives of the denomination’s 13 general agencies and other denomination-wide bodies. He also is a leader in the denomination’s initiative to dismantle racism

“Though many regard this diagnosis as a death sentence,” he told Discipleship Ministries, “I choose to see it as an opportunity to display God’s healing power working through me. I will remain hopeful. Researchers have made strides in treatment.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for UM News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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