A Time of Transition

Dear People of New Joy,

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything under the sun.

Pastor Chris Duckworth and the Indiana Army National GuardThis month, it is time for me to resign my commission as an officer and chaplain in the United States Army and the Indiana Army National Guard. It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve our state and nation both at home and overseas, and to proclaim the Gospel among Americans who take an oath in service to neighbor and nation.

As I was returning home from deployment, I was eager to continue on my path as a chaplain. I nearly completed my next phase of military education required for promotion. I was enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program for military chaplaincy. I asked for a new assignment that would broaden my understanding of National Guard operations and my exposure to the challenges our soldiers face. I was prepared for the next step in my military career.

Pastor Chris serving overseas with the Indiana Army National GuardYet as I returned home, I hit a few walls. Transitioning from deployed life to civilian life was harder than I anticipated. Schedules were much more fluid. For the first time in a year I had choices in how to use my time, what to eat, and where to go. After operating in the well-defined military culture for a year – where customs and courtesies, discipline and a certain kind of grittiness governs all interactions – coming home to experience the variable interpersonal interactions at Kroger, and to view the antics of teenagers driving recklessly through a parking lot, lit my fuse in ways that I had never experienced before.

Pastor Chris Duckworth and the Indiana Army National GuardI also returned home to a world in which my dad was still deceased. I had come home in April 2019 for his funeral at the start of my deployment, but when I returned to Kuwait I largely neglected the grief process, instead deciding to simply “get back to work” six days per week. Returning home to see some of his furniture in my house, and to situations that would often lead me to call to my dad, provoked in me a massive grief response I hadn’t anticipated.

And then there’s the pandemic. I had three Sundays in-person with you, dear People of New Joy. Just three. And then we were all adjusting on the fly to this new coronavirus threat. In-person worship got shut down. I learned new technologies. Set up new accounts. We tried new things. Church as we knew it was turned upside down before I even had a chance to get settled after a year away from you.

And there’s more. But that’s enough, for now. By late spring I discerned – after literally weeping and gnashing my teeth – that I needed to focus on my health, on my family, and my church. I love the Army more than I ever imagined I would. But there’s only so much that I can do. Maybe if we didn’t have the pandemic. Maybe if my grief wasn’t twisted and stretched out in such a bizarre way. Maybe if I transitioned home better. Maybe if just one or two of these things weren’t a factor I’d still be serving, looking forward to my next assignment, my next role, my next chance to proclaim the Gospel within the unique setting of the US Army and Indiana Army National Guard.

Pastor Chris Duckworth and the Indiana Army National GuardBut that’s not the case. I am grateful to have served. But I am thrilled now to be home, looking not toward a future deployment or a promotion but to a renewed ministry here in Westfield and Carmel. I am thrilled to no longer miss my kids’ soccer games and baseball games because of drill weekends, but to have more time with them and my dear wife. I am relieved to no longer have the stress of military schedules and fitness tests looming over me.

I’ll miss it. The women and the men. The culture. The opportunity to serve and speak words of hope in the midst of a soldier’s despair. It’s been an honor. Thank you, New Joy, for blessing me in this season of national service. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Now, I look forward to this season before us – as pastor and congregation during a challenging time. This pandemic is not going away any time soon. Our nation is ruptured along social, economic, and ideological lines. Led by our Lord’s promise and grace, we will walk a faithful path forward to live and thrive as people gathered at the foot of the cross and the opening to the empty grave – people committed to Welcome, Grace, Faith, and Promise in the name of Jesus.

Solo Deo Gloria. To God be the Glory.

Pastor Chris

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