My Adventures In Public Service
by Calkins Barkley

For as long as I can remember, "caring and service" have been important values in my life. In my adult years, as my Christian faith increasingly shaped my understanding of God's will for me in my life, a commitment to be of service to others has become a major influence on my actions and way of living. Today, I derive much joy and personal fulfillment from the opportunities I find, or create, to be of service.


I believe two separate, yet ultimately interrelated forces are behind this long time interest in caring and service. My parents were role models of caring as a positive value. My father was a doctor and my mother a nurse, until she left the field to raise her family; with both parents in the caring professions, our home environment nurtured that value. I remember as a young boy going with my father on hospital rounds to experience him caring for his patients. This early life experience led me to associate joy and personal satisfaction with service to others.


A more negative force is also present. As a young adult, I was a heavy drinker, a major underachiever, and at times a most uncaring person. I have felt much guilt and remorse over that phase of my life. One manifestation of that guilt has often been a compulsive need to do for others; only gradually have I learned that service to others that is guilt-driven, leads to over-commitment, and to burn out.


My Christian faith has given me a helpful framework for managing the conflict between a "compulsion" to serve, which lacks staying power, and the "love" of serving, which is sustainable. In the great commandment, Jesus taught that to show your love for God, you are to "love your neighbor as you love yourself." Like so many people with a service orientation, I am prone to forget or to ignore the "as yourself' part of the commandment.


As a part of learning to love myself, I have learned to pray for God's spirit to work in me, and through me, and to guide my decisions on when and where to make commitments. I seek to let my person be a channel for God's love. And I have learned that the ability to say "no" to worthy causes is often essential if my service is to be focused, effective, and sustainable.


Some examples of this lifelong commitment to service are:

  • In high school, I found great personal satisfaction in being a counselor in a day camp in the summers.
  • In 1963, as a Marine Corps officer and pilot stationed in Vietnam, I taught conversational English to a group of Vietnamese soldiers. A warm memory is of one of the soldiers having me into his home for dinner with his family before my squadron left the country.
  • During the last eight years of my 25 year career with JP Morgan and Company, I was in the Department of Community Relations and Public Affairs. These were the most gratifying of my years at the bank, and led me to a far greater interest that I had ever had before in the work of the individuals and the organizations comprising the nonprofit sector.
  • During the Morgan years, I always tried – I believe with some success – to be a caring, concerned co-worker and supervisor.
  • After retiring from Morgan, I consulted with numerous nonprofit organizations, primarily ones involved in social services, to help them more effectively fulfill their service missions.
  • I have served on numerous nonprofit boards over the years. Currently, I chair the board of the Creative Living Counseling Center, a pastoral counseling and community service organization.
  • For seven years, I directed the New Jersey program for the National Executive Service Corps, a nonprofit that uses experienced executives to provide consulting services to other nonprofit organizations.
  • I am an active Presbyterian layman. In our church, I:
    • Served several terms as a Ruling Elder.
    • Currently serve as a Deacon, where I actively participate in the nurturing ministry of the church.
    • Am a frequent church school teacher, seeking to impart the call to love one another to our young people.
    • Lead worship at times.
    • Participate in our mission programs, particularly in our work with the homeless.
  • For the last two years, I have been in a Clinical Pastoral Education program, learning to be a hospital chaplain.
  • At Seton Hall University, I now direct their Nonprofit Sector
    Resource Institute, an arm of the Center for Public Service.
  • Over the last year, working closely with Bob Manley, I have been
    active with a group of people from the Darfur region of western Sudan; a human rights tragedy of enormous proportions is going on in their homeland, and it is gratifying to lend whatever relevant experience I can bring to helping the Darfurians organize their response.


Today, I mostly find great joy in service. I have learned that if I pray for God's inspiration, I find not only the guidance I need, but also the resources – both the inner strength, and the external resources – to be an effective servant.


Having a very supportive wife for the last 44 years has been a major help. She not only understands my need to serve, she supports it. And I have come to greatly value both her support, and her own commitment to service.


For anyone who takes the time to read my story, I hope two messages will come through:

  1. There can be great joy and fulfillment in being a caring and compassionate person, and this can begin at any stage of life.
  2. Having discovered the potential for this joy and fulfillment, be careful not to let your caring and compassionate nature lead you into to over-commitment. If you will invite God – however you understand God – to guide you, you will be led into wise decisions on where and how to best allocate your precious time, talents, and resources.

About the Author:

Barkley Calkins is Director of the Nonprofit Sector Resource Institute, a funded arm of the Center for Public Service at Seton Hall University. Prior to working at Seton Hall, he had a distinguished 25 year career with J. P. Morgan in New York and London, consulted with various nonprofit organizations and foundations, and directed the New Jersey program for the National Executive Service Corps. A graduate of Amherst College, Mr. Calkins is a decorated Marine Corps officer and pilot and has also undergone training to become a hospital chaplain. A ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church, he is regularly involved in civic and volunteer activities.

Back to table of contents