Couple Finds Strength, Inspiration, and Formation at CFR

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Friday, October 18, 2013

When Angela and Jeff Nelson entered Duke Divinity School three years ago, they knew they wanted to get involved in the work of the Center for Reconciliation (CFR).

“The Center for Reconciliation showed me that true reconciliation—made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—is worth pursuing, no matter how difficult the process may be,” Angela said.

Angela and Jeff heard about the CFR while they were in college at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. They attended a conference on campus where center co-founder Emmanuel Katongole spoke. Their professors encouraged them to apply to Duke and to get involved with the center’s work.

Shortly after the Nelsons entered the Divinity School in 2010, Angela began a federal work-study at the center, where she assisted staff with program planning and administration.

“I was excited to work at the Center for Reconciliation because the ministry of reconciliation was what had drawn me into theology in the first place,” Angela said.

But what started out as a part-time job while she worked on her M.Div. degree turned into something much more.

All-Embracing Formation

During their first year at Duke, Angela and Jeff participated in the annual Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope. The center guides a group of Duke Divinity students on a week-long trip to diverse communities along the East Coast, including Richmond, Va., and Baltimore. In Richmond, the students learn from local leaders ministering to the people of the city through a ministry called “Hope in the Cities” and reflect on Americans’ painful involvement with slavery. In Baltimore, students shadow community members involved in New Song Urban Ministries, an organization that focuses on affirming racial equality and loving one’s neighbor.

“The pilgrimage played a crucial beginning role in helping me see the ways that our contemporary world—and the violence, economic stratification, and powers in it—is shaped by larger systems of oppression that are all-encompassing and deep,” Jeff said. “In whatever place I eventually live and work, I see part of my vocation as a Christian minister as helping people recover this type of sight so that reconciliation is possible.”

The pilgrimage and interactions with staff at the CFR taught Angela the importance of listening and prepared her for future ministry, she said. “We cannot hope to see or name brokenness if we do not first listen,” Angela said. “This, I think, is an extremely important lesson for pastoral ministry. Ultimately, listening, seeing, and naming brokenness enables us to witness instances of God’s grace showing up in the everyday.”

Mary Jo Clancy, center staff specialist, said that she hopes more students like Angela and Jeff can journey with the CFR and enter a space of acceptance and discovery. “I hope that Duke Divinity students will find the CFR to be a place to see and share a view of God’s new creation that isn't necessarily talked about in the classrooms, a place where they know they will find others who find God at the margins, a place where all are welcomed without labels or divides,” she said.

In May 2013, Angela and Jeff graduated from Duke Divinity School, each with an M.Div. degree and a certificate in Gender, Theology, and Ministry. They also received their District Minister's License in the Church of the Nazarene and hope to serve a church together in the future.

As they pursue their own ministries of reconciliation, the Nelsons plan to continue to stay in touch with CFR staff.

“Because I worked at the CFR for two years, it played a huge role in my journey,” Angela said. “The personal relationships I developed with CFR staff, student associates and other students who were involved in CFR activities are extremely valuable to me. You can’t go through life’s journeys without good friends.”