More than a month ago, Duke Divinity student Tarvick Linder was recalled to active duty in the National Guard to support COVID-19 response efforts in North Carolina.

Professors and administrators at Duke Divinity School worked with him to speed up his course requirements so he could complete his studies and earn his Master of Divinity degree this month.

It was not the first time that Linder, a quiet, soft-spoken man, asked to be excused.

In November, he called the Rev. Rhonda Parker, senior director of ministerial formation and field education at Duke Divinity, to tell her he had been asked to play taps at former N.C. Senator Kay Hagan’s funeral in Greensboro. Parker agreed he should skip his assignment that day and go.

His professors sensed Linder’s life was about service—to the state of North Carolina, to the nation, to the church, and to God.

Tarvick Linder Plays Taps
Staff Sgt. Tarvick Linder, a bugle player with the North Carolina National Guard’s Military Funeral Honors Team, plays Taps during a military funeral practice at the Raleigh National Cemetery in Raleigh, N.C., on May 11, 2017. The team conducts over 3,300 dignified military funeral honors a year across North Carolina. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Mary Junell)

Serving Others on the Front Lines

Linder has dedicated his life to the common good. After high school, he served for six years in the U.S. Army, including a tour of Afghanistan as part of the war on terrorism.

Now, as part of his National Guard duties, he’s assisting medical personnel in administering coronavirus tests, packing pallets of food at food banks, and distributing supplies door to door.

But his real calling, he’s discovered over the past three years at the Divinity School, is helping people one-on-one.

Linder wants to be a chaplain.

In August, he will enter the Chaplain Residency Program at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, where he will spend a year offering spiritual care to critically ill patients.

“I like the one-on-one interaction I can have with people,” Linder said. “I’ve always been like that.”

Formation and Finding Gifts

His educational experiences at Duke Divinity School helped him find his way.

The school requires every Master of Divinity student to complete two units of field education—totaling  800 hours—to graduate. Linder said that experience, which included ministry in both predominantly white and black churches, a stint preaching at Orange Correctional Center in Hillsborough, as well as providing spiritual guidance to death row inmates at Central Prison in Raleigh, helped him recognize his gifts and calling.

“He just connected with people exactly where they were,” said the Rev. Dewey Williams D'11, pastor of Mt. Bright Baptist Church in Hillsborough where Linder served as a student intern. “If they were young, he connected. If they had a little more age on them, he connected too. Everyone valued his contributions to the life of the church.”

Growing up, Linder said he had never considered church ministry.

“As an African American kid in the South, I didn’t have a choice whether I went to church or not,” he said. “It was a part of who we were.”

A Baptist, Linder sang in church choirs and played trumpet and French horn in church orchestras—both in Rocky Mount, N.C., his hometown, and Virginia Beach, Va.

He loved to read the Bible and spent hours poring over it.

“I was enthralled with Old Testament stories like some people read Marvel Comics,” he said.

Tarvick Linder, outside the Westbrook Building of Duke Divinity School in 2019.

The Gift of Presence during Suffering

After graduating from high school, Linder chose to enlist in the Army. He later earned an undergraduate degree in music education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and taught middle school for three years.

A conversation with a National Guard chaplain led him to consider Duke Divinity School.

It was a good fit.

“He embodies the kind of formation we aspire to as a school,” said Parker. “He has a really deep sense of integrity. He’s incredibly compassionate. He’s humble and kind. He has really great interpersonal skills.”

Now he’s ready to offer a particular kind of ministry: The gift of presence.