Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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What’s in a gown? Sartorial Reflections on Baccalaureate

I am not sure that anyone would ever call me a stylish person. I try more than some and less than others, but overall I wear what is comfortable and if that happens to include a humorous T-shirt, fun pair of socks, or exciting tie then I am all the more excited. However, when I was thinking about what I was wearing for Baccalaureate It seemed rather significant.

For those who do not know, Baccalaureate is essentially the graduation for Duke Divinity School. Sure I will not technically graduate until Sunday when the President of Duke University and other people say things that few people listen to or remember, but the good part with worship, sermon, and hoods is what we have all been waiting for. For the service there are two required pieces of attire:

1) Black robe–Unlike High School and College there are no required styles of robes. Most people wear the robes they have purchased for leading worship as pastors. I think this makes it that more significant. In Divinity School, we have been working with the end in mind. I know that four years ago when I began the dream I had was to be a pastor standing in front of my congregation and proclaiming the Word of God. Wearing the same robe to graduate that I will wear when I deliver my first sermon as a pastor reminds me that the four years of work that I have put in were not an end in themselves, but were instead a preparation for my future ministry. My particular robe is extra special because it is one that I got for free while I was in England. The Wesley Study Centre where I was studying received the robes and stoles of a former Methodist minister. No one else could fit in the robe and so I got to keep it. It is a very nice (and expensive) robe and I am extremely grateful for it. However, I am even more grateful for what it represents. My time in England was one which reaffirmed my call to ministry and helped me to understand what it was that God was calling me to as a pastor. I am so excited about what God is doing missionally in England and the friends that I made during that year inspire me in so many ways. As I wear my robe in the service as well as in the pulpit I know that they are a part of my story and ministry.

2) Hood–The hoods represent the fact that I have mastered divinity graduated with my masters of divinity. My particular hood is one that I am borrowing from Rev. Chris Brady who was the lead pastor of Living Hope, the new church plant that I was a part of for most of my time at Duke. While Living Hope has been closed by the Bishop, the community that God brought together for that season of my life remains an important part of who I am, and the ways in which I grew as a person and as a pastor will forever mark my ministry. Chris Brady who is now the pastor of Wilson Temple in Raleigh has been my pastor during my entire time at Duke and a generous mentor and friend.

While most people will only see the robe and the hood, for me they represent both the communities that have shaped and formed me in the past, but also the ways in which God has used those people (and countless others) to prepare me for the work that I am called to in the future. If there is one main thing that I have learned in Divinity School it is that ministry is not something that can (or should be) done alone. Without my community here in Durham as well as all over the US and UK I would not be here today. As I cross that chancel area my wife, parents, mother-in-law, and many friends will be sitting in the congregation of Duke Chapel as well as worshipping online and I am so grateful to be able to share with them that moment and the many other ones to come.

GHS Graduation

June 2006, Me and my parents after my High School graduation.

FSC graduation

May 2010, Me and my two best friends after graduation.


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Thoughts on Tea: Part 1

I was never a big tea drinker. Even though I grew up in the South, where sweet tea is delivered in an IV drip, I never had a taste for it hot or cold. As I was getting ready to graduate from undergrad, a friend made it her mission to make me into a tea drinker. She took me to a tea shop in Lakeland and after searching almost their entire collection, I found my gateway teas which were herbal and fruity and tasted nothing like tea.

I went on with my fruity tea ways until I learned that I was going to be studying in England. If you know nothing else about England, you know that tea is a BIG deal. Therefore I knew that I needed to work on my taste for tea.

Enter the British exchange students. After sharing with them my hesitancy with tea, they made me a “proper British cuppa.” It was when they poured a splash of milk into the steamy tea that the tea-gates opened and my first step of inculturation was born. It was truly a revolution. The milk dulls the bitterness which I so disliked of tea (brewing it for the proper amount of time I have found also helps), and gives it a nice creamy flavor. I was a born again tea drinker. I was ready for England.

Towards the end of my time in England, people liked to ask me, “So what will you miss most about England?” The more  thought about it since then, I have realized that what I will miss most are the tea times. For the British, tea creates a space for hospitality, friendship, invitation, and consolation. When moving to a new house, your tea supplies are the first things you unpack and you “put the kettle on.” When someone comes over to your house-“put the kettle on.” Someone crying in the common room? “Put the kettle on.”

Whether significant or mundane, tea punctuates the moments of British life. It brings people together and warms their hands as well as their hearts. There is just no real equivalent in American life. How can we in the busyness of our American lives build those tea times into our routines? Make the time to stop and sit with each other, comfort one another, live with one another?

Because tea is so important, I thought that it deserved two different posts. Next week, I will not only describe how to make a “proper English cuppa” (Be prepared. The process is fraught with fascinating characters (see below) and controversy), but also explore some more of these issues.

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Duke Article

One of the things that I have tried to do while being here is to remain connected to Duke and the community I built there. For my first post of reflection, I wanted to share with you an article I co-wrote with the other American student who is here with me Kayla for the Divinity School’s student newsletter. A version of it is due to be published in a few weeks by the WSC in their newsletter as well. I have made a few edits to it for the sake of clarity and because I can and also added links to explain some of the terms.

Greetings from England!

In case you have been wondering where we have been, or who we are, some background is probably helpful. In September we began a one year exchange program with the Wesley Study Centre (WSC) in St. John’s College at Durham University in England. As we begin our new term, we wanted to let our Duke community know how things were going. Having been here for several months, things that initially seemed strange have become normal. Durham Cathedral (a place of prayer for over 1,000 years!) that towers over our college no longer gets called the “chapel,” having tea (with a bit of milk) has become a mainstay of any social interaction, and the words, “circuit,” “mission” and “”The Doctor” have become part of the normal vocabulary.

While these may seem like incidental changes, taken together they hint at a much more foundational change in who we are as students, ministers, and Christians. One of the most significant changes has been that by studying and worshipping with the British Methodist Church and the Church of England, we have begun to see ourselves as part of Christ’s world-wide Church. We are studying with students from South Africa, Germany, China, and Brazil, however, the whole ethos of this place seems to look outward. The two central concepts which shape the majority of conversations in the classroom and common room are mission and practical theology. How does the Church discern and participate in what God is doing in the world? How is what we are learning going to shape how we do ministry in our churches parishes?

While neither of these are new questions to us coming from Duke, the ways in which they are asked and the answers they are giving have a unique and powerful particularity. As part of our studies we have both been given the chance to be placed in a Methodist Church (similar to a Field Ed) where we are able to put some of these questions and answers to the test. After adjusting to British worship styles and hymnody, we have found that there is a great freedom in ordering the worship service. Many services are done in “café style” or are particularly shaped by the needs of children (called “Messy Church”). There was a service over the summer at a Christian conference which was called a “Goth Eucharist.” Such creativity and intentionality is a lot of fun and has given both of us permission to be creative as well. Last term, for example, we both led the daily morning prayer according to the United Methodist Book of Worship.  While some people said it “felt like a holiday,” for us it felt like a little bit of home.

It is certainly difficult in a lot of ways to be away from you all. There is no place like Goodson Chapel, of W0016, however, as you begin this semester know that as we gather to pray in a small chapel in Durham, England that you are in our hearts and prayers. We look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences next year when we return!

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

[Note: Kayla has also been blogging her trip and often includes video blogs. Some of which I feature in. If you are interested check it out: http://kbharward.wordpress.com/]


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End of Term Reflections

I have this countdown clock on my computer which I used before I left to count down the hours until when I left. When I got here I didn’t turn it off, so instead of counting down it reminds me of how long I have been here. 5 months and 24 days. A large part of me cannot imagine that it has been this long!

This week is the last week of the Epiphany term in college which gives us some much needed rest as well as some time to work on essays and do some short term placements in churches. It has been a really busy end of term. Not so much because of the work, but because I have had a lot of people who have used me as an excuse to come to England come to see me.

It is a strange thing to have American friends come over and experience my life in this place. Over these past months England has become a sort of surreal normal. I have developed routines and habits and a part of the community in really beautiful ways. So, when people come over who have known me from my “normal” life, it is a strange clash as I realize just how special this time is. Whereas I now rush through the Cathedral to get to class, its vaulted ceilings and powerful columns stop them in their tracks as it did me so many months ago. They have been reminding me that this place and time is a unique and beautiful experience; a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Whereas so much of my life thus far has been dominated by lectures and essays, having visitors over has given me (and Little John Wesley) the excuse I needed to go out and see other parts of the country. Over the next few weeks I will be posting some reflections on my past few months. Some of them are more recent while others are posts that I wrote early on in my time here and have been revising as I learned more. These next few weeks are going to be packed with more visitors and more essays (including some for my Commissioning!), but I am hoping that using some of the posts I have already written it will allow me to update with some more regularity.

Train at York station.

Train at York station.

Durham Cathedral and Castle at Night

Durham Cathedral and Castle at Night


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Update from Me and LJW

Wow…My first term in England is almost over, Thanksgiving has gone, Christmas is just around the corner, and as I knew would happen, it has been a long time since there has been a post on here. There have been lots of posts in my head, but none have been finished. I blame the quick succession of papers, presentations, and long conversations in the common room over cups and cups of tea. So, what I thought I would do is to give an overview of the past few weeks through a massive Little John Wesley update. LJW is a very helpful companion, because if I don’t do fun things every now and then, he gets rather cross with me. I know what you are thinking: How can his stitched smile look scary? Trust me. It does. So, here it is

LJW and a Monk

LJW and a Monk

Right after All Saints Day, The Methodist students all took a retreat to the monastery at Ampleforth Abby. It was a great time together. We focused on the “I AM…” sayings in the Gospel of John with brief devotions throughout the day followed by longer periods of personal reflection and rest. After a busy few weeks, it was a very welcome break! It was also very nice to be at an Abby and participate with the monastic order of prayer. Monastic worship has been meaningful to me for a long time and sitting in the choir with the monks was beautiful as their chants and prayers washed over us. After five long weeks of getting used to England, classes, and each other, to be able to get away from college, and gel as a community was more welcome than many of us realized. The one downside was that our Anglican friends were not there. They had a retreat for themselves, but sharing stories when we returned helped to bridge the gap.

LJW visits Whitby

LJW visits Whitby

The week after Reading Week was my birthday! Birthdays are one of those times of the year when you can throw a party and invite your closest friends and family and have a good time. This year was the big quarter century mark, which makes me feel rather old. As I thought about how to celebrate my birthday, I decided that I wanted a distinctly English experience. Which means that it needed to include Fish and Chips. This was also significant because my birthday was also my two month anniversary in England, so a Chip shop needed to happen. After much research I discovered that the town of Whitby has one of the best Fish and Chips in the country (as well as the best Mushy peas! Don’t curl your nose up. They are my favorite English side dish after the Yorkshire pudding). We woke up kinda early,went to McDonalds for Breakfast (“American” Style), and then off to the beach. It was VERY cold and very cool. Whitby is where Dracula was set, as well as beautiful lighthouses, and a ruined monastery. Kayla, who is my fellow Americah came along for the fun as well as two of our friends who are Anglican ordinands. Road Trips are always exciting, so it was good to have fun people to spend the day with.

LJW enjoys a Thanksgiving Meal

LJW enjoys a Thanksgiving Meal

The next exciting holiday was Thanksgiving! If you ever want to feel out of place,try explaining Thanksgiving to someone in England. I was surprised how many people had very little idea of what the holiday was all about, so it was fun sharing the story of pilgrims, Indians, massive feasts and subsequent oppression and unrest. To celebrate Kayla and I taught some of our fellow students how to draw hand turkeys. For me one of the highlights were all of our British friends wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving. It represented the hospitality which I have received time and time again since I have been in this country. Here was a very American holiday which could have been entirely depressing and a stark reminder of how far away from home I was. However, with each cheery greeting I was reminded that the heart of the holiday is the love of family and friends. Therefore, as much as I missed home, at the end of the day, I was thankful for the new friends that I have made and the community we have created. This was brought to the foreground even more over the weekend when Kayla and I forgot about our pending papers and spend 15 hours in the kitchen of some friends’ house cooking up a “proper” Thanksgiving meal. It included all the fixin’s from both of our families. There is nothing like a post-Turkey coma to remind you of home :).

So, there it is. Next week is our last normal week of classes. Following that is a week-long intensive class followed by a four week break. There is more to come, but I hope that this will appease those of you who have been checking and not seeing any changes. Here is a gallery of more pictures from the past month. Click through and enjoy!


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Sorted

Sort•ed: (past participle) To have everything in their proper place, to have something figured out or under control.

Of all the British words I have learned in my two weeks in this country, this is the one has been almost a theme for me. I really don’t like to move. There is something disconcerting about taking all of your possessions and moving them to another place, unpacking it all, getting settled only to do it all again in a few months. I know that this is an unfortunate feeling for a future United Methodist minister committed to itinerancy, but I think that living in five different places in the past five months has been about four too many. I like having roots. There is a deep sense of comfort to having a home, a community, friends and family nearby and meaningful work to do. That is one of the main reasons it has been so strange to pack up one suitcase full of clothes, books, and some other essential items; board a plane; and arrive in another country with an ocean separating you from all of those roots you love.

When I stepped off the airplane at Heathrow all I had with me was my luggage, camera, and $100 (which quickly turned into £51.29). What I also had was a promise that at 9:00 a young man bearing a sign with my name on it would pick me up from the airport and take me to his house to stay for a week. It was this promise which would be the beginning to what was a fantastic week.

How I met the Logans is a long story, but they were such a means of grace for me in my first week in Great Britain. They welcomed me into their family helped me get oriented  to not just the city of London, but also British Methodism and British culture. Because of them I had a fantastic week in London and Cambridge. There are so many stories from this week that I cannot fit them all into one post, however, I do hope to post some of them in the future. Suffice it to say when I boarded the train for Durham I took with me not only my luggage, but an English phone, a large stack of pamphlets from all over London, 1,000 pictures, and the beginnings of a new community in this country.

When I left the safe comforts of London and the Logans and entered Durham I once again became uprooted. Now I had to navigate a University bureaucracy in which I as an exchange student operating outside the conventional structures for international students was was utterly clueless. Again though I boarded the train with the promise that at the station, Debs, one of the British students who had studied at Duke last year, would meet me at the station. With her help and that of the persistant and patient administration I managed to get my room, my ID card, my finalized schedule, and a vague understanding of how this year was going to work.

Do I have everything figured out? No. Are there still many things which are up in the air? Of course. However, as we begin our induction week (orientation), and I meet my fellow students who will be on this journey with me over the next year I can’t help but come back to my (already messy) room and, for the first time in a long while begin to feel sorted.

P.S If you would like to see some of my best pictures from London check out my Flickr photo stream here.