Tryin’ Out a New ‘Do

(This post first appeared in my congregation's June 2009 newsletter)

You have probably already noticed it, but you are too kind or polite to mention it.  Perhaps that’s because we’re still dancing the get-to-know-you dance, and you may not want to say anything so personal to the new pastor just yet.  Well, I’ll say it: I’m growing my hair long.  To be honest, I’m not sure if I like this new hairdo or if it suits me well at all.  We’ll see.

Me (and my hair) with my wife, Jessicah, at her graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary I have wanted to grow my hair long for years, but I’ve never had the guts to actually go through with it.  But not this time.  For the first time in my life I’m growing out my hair.  Why?  Back in January I was asked to participate in the leadership of our synod’s Confirmation Camp (held in late June at Mar-Lu-Ridge Camp near Frederick, MD).  My role?  To portray Jesus in the week-long teaching and re-enacting of the Holy Week/Passion story.  Since we commonly envision Jesus with long hair, and since for years I’ve wanted but been unwilling to grow my hair long, I have allowed my hair to grow for this role.  We’ll see if I keep the new ‘do after June.

Growing my hair long is just one of many firsts I’ve had in my first six months of ordained ministry (and not one that I would have anticipated!).  It is here with you that I first presided at the Lord’s Table and at the Baptismal Font.  It is here with you that I first said, “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.”  It is here with you that I first sat down with lay leaders to dream about education and outreach ministries for the coming year (and also for many years to come).  And after years of moving from place to place, it is here with you that I am finally laying down roots for my ministry and for my family.  For the first time in my life I am settling into patterns of life and work, and growing into the hopes and dreams that God has given me.

As I look ahead to September and the start of my first program year with you I am simultaneously anxious and excited.  For years I sat in classes at seminary, or worked as a youth director, or worked at the edges of parish ministry (as a church publishing sales representative, for example).  And in these roles I eagerly learned, hypothesized and developed convictions about ministry.  But this time is different.  No longer am I a temporary intern or a sales representative peeking into the parish.  Now I’m in a new role with new and greater responsibilities … this is where the rubber hits the road.  I admit to being a bit anxious.

But let me tell you how excited I am, too.  I see here at Resurrection great faith and great hopes, a strong desire to serve others and to be a caring community of love and mutual support.  There is already so much that we’re doing well, from our vibrant Sunday School ministry to our Confirmation Class bursting at the seams; from the Clothes Closet to the Christian Service group, both of which serve those in need; from the choir and worship assistants to the dedicated team of leaders on Council and committees, all of whom keep our congregation running; to … well, the list goes on.  

And so with ideas and convictions formed after years of church work, and with a faithful and firm foundation of ministry here at Resurrection, I am excited about what will come next year.  I’ve been meeting with our Christian Education, Evangelism, and Stewardship leaders, and I am excited about the new and renewed ministries that these committees are envisioning.  From new fellowship events to exciting tweaks to Sunday School, from digging deeper into the meaning of Christian stewardship to wrestling what it means to welcome newcomers to the faith and church, the conversations, hopes, and dreams shared by our ministry leaders are exciting and promising.

I’m not sure where all these conversations, hopes, and dreams about ministry will lead us.  Perhaps some of our plans for Sunday School or new fellowship events will work out … and perhaps some will not.  That’s ok, for just like my hair we can cut and change things afterwards and go in a different direction if we don’t like the look and feel of our new ministry ‘do.

And so as I prepare for my first full program year as a pastor I am anxious and excited, confident in God’s leading and hope-filled for what lies ahead … no matter how long my hair is.

Four Years of The Lutheran Zephyr

If my blog were a President, it would be finishing its first term.

On May 22, 2005 I started this blog … I never thought it would last this long.  I began blogging in order to connect myself to conversations about ministry and faith while I wrestled with my own sense of call and worked at the fringes of parish ministry, looking in.  Now I'm ordained, doing the work about which I often opined on these pixels, and I'm loving life.

Thanks to all for reading, for commenting, for forming me through this wonderful and odd medium of blogging.

Decline of faith-based niche blogging?

I have noticed a decline in the number of blogposts appearing in my Google Reader in recent months.  The decline includes my blog, of course, as I've been blogging infrequently since December.  But I am not alone.  Many of the "churchy" blogs that I used to read regularly are posting less often.  With the exception of the rise of Facebook – and many of my church blog friends are on Facebook – I really cannot explain this phenomenon.

For my part, I'm finding that since throwing myself into the work of full-time parish ministry I have less time and energy to blog.  My life essentially has two parts – church and family, both of which are terribly time and attention consuming.  Blogging – which for some can be part of their work – would essentially take time from either my churchwork or my family, and that's nothing I'm willing to do right now.  If I decide to take time from either, it will be for exercise at the local gym to get rid of the excess 30-40 pounds I'm carrying around.

Furthermore, I'm finding that my inspiration to blog is similar to the challenges I've had recently with writing my bi-weekly sermons.  In my pastoral role – I'm an Associate Pastor – I deal with lots of programming.  I'm finding that managing programs uses a different part of my brain than does writing (blogposts or sermons or newsletter articles), and the writing has suffered as a consequence.  I hope to return to more and better writing, including on this blog.  But when I do get the energy, creativity, and ability to write, it's all I can do to just focus on the sermon and not get carried away with other writing projects right now.

I expect that this is part of my learning curve, my adjustment to full-time parish ministry.  Now in my fifth month, I notice that I am developing patterns and setting priorities in a better manner than I did when I first started.  Perhaps as I continue to grow into this ministry and calling I will find the time and creative ability to return to writing more frequently … I certainly hope so.

Sermons Updated

I've posted sermons to this blog for the first time in months.  Sermons from the first few months of my life as a pastor, as well as a few sermons from the end of my internship, have now been posted to the Sermons page.

Now, don't all rush.  Walking, please.  One at a time.  No pushing.  Thank you.

It has served its purpose

This blog – as a host for my thoughts and feelings, reflections and rants, questions and quandaries – has served its purpose.  As a place for personal punditry and faithful reflection, this blog is done.  Over.  Kaput.  Finished.  Dead.

Well, almost.

For now I'll keep this blog up and running, and perhaps fashion it in the form of Clint's blog, who posts links and compelling quotes and other brief items, but who rarely opines online.  Eventually, perhaps I'll transform this blog into one such as Mark Daniel's, posting lectionary reflections, sermons, and thoughtful reflections on the news.  Perhaps.

But as I enter a new phase of my calling – that of a parish pastor – I'm quickly realizing that I'd do better to read more and write less, to pray more and play the pundit less, to be still and know that the Lord is God more, and busy myself with blogging less . . . I'll be reading fewer blogs much less frequently, too.

This blog has been a great blessing to me for more than three and a half years, a place for me to share ideas and learn much, to grow and be challenged, to express myself and to try something new.  I am thankful for the various people who have commented, who read, who are part of my online community.  You have been part of my formation as a pastor, as a person of faith, as a child of God.  Thank you.

A blessed Christmas season and New Year to all.

Peace to you.
Chris

Ordination, and First Time Presiding

Ordination
 Last Saturday, December 20, I was ordained for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament.  On Christmas Eve at 11pm, I presided for the first time at the Eucharist.  Not to mention the move to the parsonage and Christmas celebrations, and it's been a wonderful two weeks.  A few thoughts.

The ordination was a profound moment, personally and spiritually, but especially personally (not that the two are distinct, but . . . the spiritual high came a few days later, to be honest.  More on that in a moment).  From the presence and participation of old friends (both pictured here; my best friend Josh – friends since 5th grade – read from Isaiah, and my dear friend Meredith – friends since 6th grade and an Episcopalian priest – offered the Prayers of the Church),to the surprise appearances of my (now retired) college pastor and his wife (who drove 3+ hours to get to the ordination) and also of a young man who was a youth in a church I served as a youth director 9 years ago,to being surrounded by the church in prayer, and by clergy colleagues in the laying on of hands . . . it was a special moment, one that I will not soon forget.

I got weepy twice in the evening – when I saw my college pastor walk through the church doors just moments before the service began, and when the Bishop declared, "Let it be acclaimed that Christopher Thomas Krey Duckworth is ordained a minister in the Church of Christ." 

An extra little special element in the service was the little Bible I held in my hands.  We recently learned that my grandfather's grandfather was a Methodist pastor in Philadelphia.  Upon my grandfather's death two years ago, my dad and step-mother found a small Bible among his possessions that had been given to his grandfather on the day of his ordination.  My step-mother had the Bible rebound and gave it to me for my ordination.  I held it with me during the entire service, connecting me with this man of faith whom I never met yet whose work I now share.

In the middle of the ordination rite itself I was on my knees for several prayers and for a hymn invoking the Holy Spirit, all the while surrounded by clergy.  The hymn, however, was not printed in the bulletin, and most the clergy standing around me had not brought their hymnals to the chancel.  So here I was in the chancel, kneeling before the Bishop and indeed the whole church, surrounded by clergy in red stoles . . . mumbling through the hymn!  It was both a high spiritual moment and a comfortingly down-to-earth moment, all wrapped up in one.  Perfect.

All this – from my great great grandfather's Bible to the clergy to the great outpouring of friends and clergy and church members – demonstrated to me that in this ministry I am not alone.  I am surrounded and supported by a broader body of God's people, a body of which I am part, and for that I give thanks to God.

—–

I presided at the Eucharist for the first time on Christmas Eve at the 11pm candlelight service.  I was just as nervous for this as I was for the ordination – actually, moreso.  As I processed during the entrance hymn, I could hardly sing . . . so nervous, so anxious, so overwhelmed by the ministry I was about to offer.

At my church the presiding minister wears a chausable throughout the entire service.  From the moment I put on this massive – almost suffocating – cloak-like vestment I felt as if I were carrying an extra burden, a new responsibility.  This extra layer of liturgical garb even further reinforced to me that I am a minister of the church, bound by and dedicated to a tradition much larger than me or my personality, gifts, or skills.  Wearing the chausable was incredibly humbling.

I had practiced the presider's prayers and gestures much during the two days leading up to Christmas Eve, and I'm glad I did.  Everything went smoothly.  Well, almost everything.  I forgot to do the fraction (breaking the bread after the Lord's Prayer at the Invitation to the Table), but overall it did seem to go well.  I'll preside again on Sunday.

—–

Much more to write, but that's it for now.  I am still in active contemplation about the future of this blog . . . discerning everything from the personal/professional divide and the wisdom of blogging about personal matters, to the do-I-have-time-to-blog? issue, to the thought of developing a blog intentionally focused on my ministry, an endeavor which would draw time and energy away from this blog . . .  We'll see.

Thanks for checking in.  A blessed Christmas season to all.

Signing off for a little bit

My three readers will shout for joy and dance in the street at this announcement – I'm not going to blog for the next week or two.  Why not?  Next week is a little busy.

Monday, December 15: start new job as Associate Pastor
Tuesday, December 16: move to new house
Saturday, December 20: ordination
Sunday, December 21: preaching at my first service as an ordained pastor
Wednesday, December 24: first time presiding at the Lord's Table

So, it'll be busy in the Duckworth/Zephyr household in the coming days.  I'll post some thoughts and pictures from ordination when that happens, but probably not much else until then . . .

Peace to you.

Ordination Text Update

I ditched the first draft of Bible readings for my upcoming ordination after they were met with luke-warm responses . . . and truth be told, I wasn't in love with them as ordination texts.  But I've had a hard time choosing my ordination texts, recognizing that this isn't an occasion to simply choose my favorite bible texts (as if it were a great hits or a mix tape of sentimental favorites).  Indeed, some of my favorite texts – Romans 8, Luke 1, the stories in the Elijah cycle – are wonderful, but don't quite speak to unique setting of an ordination.

So I took another stab at it, and leaned on an old rule I try hard not to forget (but which I had forgotten in this case) – trust the tradition.  Our liturgical tradition has handed down to us a variety of texts that are customarily used for the ocassion of an ordination.  Why try to re-invent the wheel?  I read through each of the suggested texts – about ten texts are suggested for each reading – and pretty easily selected readings for the first three readings:

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 103
Romans 10:13-17a

But still, none of the suggested Gospel texts spoke to me.  So I tried to think of stories from the Gospels that speak to the tasks of ministry but which wouldn't unduly elevate the ordinand.  I landed on Mark 9:33-41, which contains two quick anecdotes about ministry –

  • first, Mark's version of the "let the children come to me" text where Jesus embraces and identifies himself with a child (ie, the low, weak, marginalized, unaccomplished);
  • second, the story in which Jesus' disciples trying to stop someone else – who was not "one of them" – from casting out demons in Jesus' name.  Jesus rebukes the disciples, telling them that "whoever is not against us is for us."  I figure that it is good to begin ministry by being reminded to whom it is we're called to minister, and that no one person or group of people has a monopoly on the ministry.

Click here for all the texts.  Thanks!

It has taken me 12 years to get here

12 years ago I applied to seminary and the Candidacy Process for Ordained Ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  Later this month, I will be ordained.  Why did it take me 12 years to arrive at this place, instead of the usual four (three years of study, and a one year full-time internship) that is the norm for us Lutherans?

I'm not publishing the tell-all Candidacy memoir of Chris Duckworth (though that would be more interesting that it might seem at first glance), but I'll try over the next two weeks to offer some reflection on the path that has taken me to ordination at age 34, rather than at age 26, as was my intention. 

Here's a timeline of my candidacy for ordination.  I won't be offended if you don't read it all . . . it is quite long, after all.

  • Fall 1996: Senior year at the College of William and Mary.  Seminary and ministry had been on my mind since late in my freshman year (Spring 1994).  I was completing a B.A. in Latin American Studies and an undeclared minor in Religious Studies when I applied to both seminary and the Candidacy Process for Ordination.    
  • May 1997: Graduate from College and receive a Postponement from my Candidacy Committee at my Entrance interview.
  • August 1997: Begin study at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, where I'm participating in the Latino Ministry program.
  • Spring 1998: Receive a positive Entrance decision into the Candidacy Process for Ordination.  Decide to transfer to Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia to be close to girlfriend, family, and Candidacy Committee (I had traveled three times between Chicago and Philadelphia in one month that Spring – not fun).
  • Summer 1998: Complete one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.  Wasn't crazy about the experience, but got it done.
  • Fall 1998: Enroll at our Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, living with best friend from elementary/middle/high school 20 minutes away from campus.  Receive a positive Endorsement decision in the Candidacy Process.  Accepted into Horizon Internship program for low-income congregations in urban settings.
  • January 1999: Get engaged to be married – schedule wedding for January 2000.
  • Spring 1999: Unable to secure an internship within a reasonable distance from my fiancee's job.  A combination of emotional crud (both personal and with my fiancee) and frustration with my inability to get an internship site leads me to the brash decision to drop out of seminary and the Candidacy Process with 2/3 of my Master of Divinity and Candidacy requirements complete.
  • Summer 1999: Though I had dropped out of seminary, I take a job as a lay preacher/worship leader at a Sunday evening contemporary service at a congregation in the Philadelphia suburbs.
  • Fall 1999: Accept emergency certification to teach high school Spanish in the School District of Philadelphia.  Love working with the kids.  Don't love teaching.
  • September 1999: Best friend from college dies, the straw that eventually broke my emotional back.  I sink into a period of sadness and uncertainty.  Within a few weeks I call off my wedding and begin seeing a therapist.  I begin to explore bigger family and personal issues in therapy, initiating a period of great – yet difficult – personal growth.
  • November 1999: I admit that teaching won't be my life-long calling, but commit to finishing out the year at my school.  Contact my synod to return to the Candidacy Process, and ask seminary to reinstate me as a student "on-leave."
  • January 2000: Move out of apartment where I had planned to live with my fiancee, and move in with my father (with whom I hadn't lived since my parents' divorce in the late 1970s).  Begin working part-time as a youth director at the church where I had preached the previous summer.
  • Spring 2000: First appearance before the Candidacy Committee since my hasty departure from the process.  They are (understandably) cautious about my quick turnabout in sense of call and vocational plans.  At the time, however, their caution didn't seem so reasonable to me.
  • June 2000: As the academic year ends at the school I take on full-time responsibilities as youth director at the church.
  • Fall 2000: Have a great deal of fun at the congregation, including coordinating a wonderfully creative and logistically-challenging Coffee House event (that still goes on a few times per year!).  I even get to preach on a monthly basis!
  • January 2001: Return to seminary part-time while working as youth director.  Sit next to an extremely attractive young woman named Jessicah in Confirmation and Youth Ministry class.  I ask to borrow her notes.  Later, I call my best friend to tell him about this wonderful woman I've met.  Too bad she's engaged, though.
  • Spring 2001: Realize that I don't want to be a youth minister for ever, and begin to make plans to return to seminary full-time.  I have high hopes that Candidacy will work out.  I also have high hopes that things with Jessicah will work out.  For starters, she's ended her engagement . . . 😉
  • Fall 2001: Study full time at seminary, live on campus. But have a "final showdown" with Candidacy – I am informed that because over the previous two years I had two postponement decisions (more on those in another post, perhaps), a third postponement would result in a denial and a minimum of one year away from the candidacy process.  Not wanting to be kicked out of Candidacy, I drop out (again), and look for work in church and non-church roles.  I'm not sure that I'll be able to return to thoughts of ordained ministry.  Ever.  And I'm crushed.
  • January 2002: Land a full-time job at the Lutheran Seminary – raising money for student scholarships as director of alumni relations and annual fund.  Ironic, no, that the guy who didn't/couldn't become a pastor is raising money so that the seminary can train more pastors?  Early on I find the job to be quite a bittersweet experience, and try to accept the idea of a career outside of ordained ministry.
  • February 2002: Get engaged to Jessicah over chicken soup at the Trolley Car Diner.
  • May 2002: Graduate from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia with a Master of Divinity, Latino Concentration.
  • October 12, 2002: Get married to Jessicah in a wonderful liturgy.
  • November, 2002: Jessicah tells me we're pregnant.
  • December 2002: Jessicah decides to apply to Princeton Theological Seminary for a PhD program in Practical Theology.
  • Spring 2003: work is going well, Jessicah's final semester as an MDiv student is going well, baby is growing well in Mommy's belly.  I take a few courses in an MBA program.  After more than three years, I decide to end my regular visits with my therapist.  I also do my first supply preaching engagements for a seminary classmate . . . an experience that would prove very valuable in my discernment.
  • July 2003: we move to Princeton and have a baby girl, Talitha.  I change my first ever diaper.
  • August 2003: I begin working at a new (non-church) job closer to our new home (and new baby!) in Princeton.  Jessicah begins her graduate studies.  I take an online MBA course.
  • Fall 2003: We join and get involved in a congregation . . . the first time in a long time that I worshiped in and belonged to a church where I wasn't a "leader."  In retrospect it was a wonderful time and place for me to grow and be fed as a child of God, and regain some clarity in my sense of call.
  • January 2004: I quit Princeton-area job and begin a new job as a traveling sales representative for Augsburg Fortress.  I just couldn't stay away from the church.  I put any thoughts of an MBA on hold, and love getting paid to travel to churches and talk with pastors and lay leaders about ministry and the resources they need to carry out their ministry.
  • September 2004: I begin inquiring how I might return to the Candidacy Process.  Talking to all those pastors about their ministry gets me to thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, I'm called to be a pastor.  And perhaps, just perhaps, I'm ready to try again.
  • July 2005: We move to Pennsylvania, as my wife steps away from full-time doctoral studies to enter parish ministry.
  • November 2005: I receive a positive Entrance decision into the Candidacy Process, four years after thinking the door to ministry was permanently closed.  Candidacy committee wants me to do an additional unit of CPE prior to internship.  I continue working at Augsburg Fortress, but realize that my days are numbered there.
  • July 2006: Our second child, Cana, is born.
  • September 2006: Leave Augsburg Fortress, begin a 9-month, full-time, 3-unit CPE Residency as a hospital chaplain at Thomas Jefferson Hospital (where I had completed one unit of CPE 9 years earlier).
  • November 2006: Receive a positive Endorsement decision by the Candidacy Committee, clearing me for an internship.  It's been ten years since I first applied to seminary and the Candidacy Process.
  • Spring 2007: Jessicah is being heavily recruited for a teaching position at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.  I find an internship at a Northern Virginia congregation that had been one of my faithful customers during my Augsburg Fortress days.  The chaplaincy has been exhausting – physically and emotionally – but hugely important.
  • August 2007: We move to Northern Virginia.
  • September 2007: I begin internship at St John's By the Gas Station, a wonderful – and in some respects unconventional – place to learn about ministry and the task of being a pastor.  I preach, teach, lead worship, provide pastoral care, and otherwise participate in the pastoral ministry of the congregation.
  • November 2007: Our third child – and first son, Naaman – is born.
  • May 2008: Approved for Ordination by my Candidacy Committee.  I cry like a baby when they give me the good news.
  • August 2008: Initial conversations about a possible call at an inside-the-beltway congregation.
  • November 2008: Called to be Associate Pastor at St John's Inside the Beltway.
  • December 2008: Ordained into the minstry of Word and Sacrament.

This timetime certainly doesn't tell the whole story.  I could say much more about friends and family, or the process itself (for example, for a few years my participation in the Candidacy Process was just a mess, and I think it can be fair to say that "mistakes were made."  In a future post I'll allude to some of those mistakes and offer some reflections on the Candidacy Process as it is structured in the ELCA.  After all, I should know something about Candidacy – I was in and out of the process for much of the past 12 years!). 

But this timeline is a good start to some pre-ordination reflections . . .