Alumni Tribute to Darrell A. Harris, IWS Dean Emeritus of the Chapel

The genuine affection for Darrell Harris, our 20-year-long Chaplain, is represented in the beautiful memories and sincere words of appreciation from our alumni.

The following quotes were specifically solicited for this special Tribute Edition. Here is a randomly assembled sampling.

Dean Moyer, D.W.S. 2003

On more than one occasion I arrived on the IWS campus in a state of unrest. I remember clearly one of those times, Darrell, in his ever-gracious way sat, eyes fixed on my soul, and listened, and prayed. I don’t recall his counsel, but I do recall he was present; fully present. That is what I needed. I didn’t need someone to tell me what to do. I just needed someone to hear me. Darrell’s gift to me, and I imagine many in our IWS family, was his gift of being genuinely present, through which the grace of Christ and peace of His Spirit were shared. Thank you, Darrell. 

Natasha Schmidt, M.W.S. 2011

Darrell Harris was a shepherd in a time of ministry where I felt surrounded by wolves. His gentle manner and the way he presented truth in love brought healing and light to my darkness. Thank you, Darrell, for being a faithful light-bringer. May God bless and provide for you in all things as you live and serve in this new chapter!

Erik Buxton, D.W.S. 2014

Having worked in the local church for more than three decades, I have listened to countless sermons, talks, teachings (some were sleep aids!). What struck me the first time I heard Darrell speak was his brilliant ability to pack truth, thoughtful insight, challenge, wit and humor into a few minutes.  I loved my professors at IWS, but my experience was enriched exponentially by the myriad ways his talks called me to listen more intently for God’s voice, pursue more passionately his presence and inquire more ardently how I can live out a better witness of my relationship with Christ in my community. More personally, Darrell encouraged me to stay the course when I was wavering in my own resolve to complete the program. He managed, at the most curious times, to speak heartening words that always impacted me. It is an understatement to say that Darrell’s shepherd’s heart and well-cured words were key components in my transformation as a spiritual leader. I am and will always be grateful for Darrell’s selfless investment in my formation.

Stephen Phifer, D.W.S. 2004

I started the IWS journey in June of 2001 with nothing but the assurance that God was leading me. In the very first communion service, I was greatly distressed by the language used in the liturgy. I felt we were undoing the Reformation. Instead of going forward to receive the elements I exited the church in tears. I walked into the path of Darrell who was on his way to the hospital to pray for a student. He saw my distress and ministered to me, assuring me that I was in the right place and that the Lord really was leading me. He took me to Bob Webber who continued to answer my questions. Bob and Darrell kept me in the game that night, and the lecture the next day provided me with new ways of thinking. Darrell rescued me from my fears and has become a life-long friend.

Emma Mak, D.W.S. 2019

Darrell, you are one of the most impressive people I met at IWS. As an international student from Hong Kong, being away from home and struggling with jetlag and the demanding work of studies and adaptation, Darrell, you offered a truthful, stable, and intuitive presence that helped to make things feel safe and alright. To me, you resemble a good father to the IWS family—a family with children from different parts of the world. You are also like an elder of the church who teaches, loves, and cares. You are a model for all of us. You don’t speak idle words. Your words lead people to God.

Dale Dirksen, D.W.S. 2003

Darrell, our friendship pre-dates IWS but has been greatly strengthened through the years of ongoing connection. You asked me a question many years ago that has been formative for me: “Were you born again or raised a Christian?” That conversation and many others have been enriching and valuable in my life. Thanks again, my friend!

Rich VanVoorst, D.W.S. 2016

Only Darrell Harris would choose to play Underoath in a morning chapel at IWS! “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape.” It gets pretty good at 2:55!

Bob George, D.W.S. 2007

I wore t-shirts with cute or pithy sayings at IWS.  One said, “The truly educated never graduate.” Darrell loved it and asked me to get one for him, which I did. I wonder if he still wears it. Have a great celebration!

Bill Cummings, D.W.S. 2004

Darrell Harris was an inspiration to me while I studied for my DWS at IWS. He has been one of the strongholds in my life and a great example for all of us. I pray that God will protect him in this season of his life and continue to give him the wisdom and knowledge to move ahead enhancing the Kingdom of God.

Vince Godfrey, D.W.S. 2020

Through Darrell’s Spirit-guided leadership, my experience in IWS chapels was inspiring, challenging, uplifting, diverse, and deeply theological. IWS chapels have been exemplars that I strive for in the ministries I serve. They are biblical, theological, historical, missiological, and contextual!

Gary Rushing, D.W.S. 2016

I treasure the times I listened to Darrell’s wisdom both during chapel and in group/private conversations. I knew his history in the contemporary Christian music field before I attended IWS. One of the things that stands out is that he never ever touted his “pedigree” and experience. Darrell was so incredibly instrumental in the CCM movement with artists that we all know and yet he did not flaunt this or try to impress us with that part of his history. Instead, Darrell spoke most highly of Christ and did so with true humility. He embodies Galatians 6:14, “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thank you, Darrell.

Judy Congdon, D.W.S. 2013

Dear Darrell, a decade ago, while perusing the IWS website, I read about your extensive experience in the contemporary music industry.  I was impressed, but as an organist, I didn’t imagine a connection with you would become a part of my IWS experience. Then during orientation you introduced yourself, and invited us, if we had needs, to talk with you—with a promise to pray.  At the time there were some difficult matters in my extended family, and I asked for a meeting.  Your grace-filled, non-judgmental listening, your compassion for me and my family, and your prayer at the conclusion of that conversation were all enormous gifts.  In future IWS sessions, you followed up with inquiries.  With all the hundreds of people I know are a part of your world, it meant a lot that you remembered the needy people in mine.  For this and much, much more, thank you! May God bless you with a long and happy retirement!

Carol Hochhalter, M.W.S. 2007, D.W.S., 2010

Darrell (and Janet) ministered to me during my time at IWS, and continue to minister through Facebook.  I am grateful for Darrell’s grace, honesty, and clarity as we move through turbulent and divisive times.  He is a peace-monger that continually points us to the Prince of Peace, along with sharing beautiful art and music. I’m grateful for the continuing presence of this minister in my life.

Linda Borecki, D.W.S. 2005

Decades later, I can still remember many of Chaplain Darrell’s morning chapel talks, dating back, for me, to the timbered chapel on Grace Episcopal Church grounds.  Here is a favorite:  Darrell’s wry smile, twinkling eyes, and droll tone as he told the story of a worship service in which an offering turned conga line, on the edge of chaos, turned into a procession to the altar—a picture of the Spirit’s paradoxical spontaneity and order within worship.  I’ve looked for those moments ever since!  May we experience something similar one day in a joyful IWS and All Saints reunion with Darrell at the head of the procession.

Marc Brown, D.W.S. 2014

When I entered IWS, Darrell was one of the first persons I met. His continually smiling face and winsome voice put me at ease. In later encounters, both through his public role as my chaplain and private role as my friend, Darrell helped me navigate several ministry challenges. Because of Darrell, I realized that I could still be a “good evangelical” while also embracing IWS’ unique vision of worship renewal. For this, I will always be grateful! Many blessings to you in your future ministry, Darrell, because I know you won’t actually retire.

Lindel M. Anderson, D.W.S. 2013

Darrell was one of the first persons I met when I arrived in Orange Park for my first intensive.  His ministry to IWS students was more than his ministry leadership from the platform.  His sincere interest in each of us as a person was very evident.  During my time at IWS, I was diagnosed with lymphoma.  I knew that Darrell was praying for me and encouraging others to do the same.  May God bless him for his many years of faithful service.

Jeffrey Meeks, D.W.S. 2008

Darrell’s words always took me to places I wasn’t prepared to go or, honestly, didn’t think I had the capacity to even explore. He challenged me, and for that, I will ever be grateful. I’ll never forget his homily on the improvisational character of God and the improvisational nature of the season of Pentecost. During chapel, he called me out to play “A Night in Tunisia” with a sax player.

Lori Elbert, D.W.S. 2007

Darrell is one of those amazing people who has walked alongside people who are at the height of worldly fame and yet he lives a humble, open, and giving life. When I was working on my thesis, he was willing to take time from his busy schedule to review the music I had written, and, over a long phone conversation, give me honest feedback. When you talk to Darrell, you feel like you are the most important person to him in that moment; he is truly present. His leading of Chapel at IWS was always one of the highlights of my days there. The ripples of his ministry will go on far beyond what he, or we, can know.

Jon Eric Woodward, M.W.S. 2017

Dear Darrell, thank you so much for your faithful leadership and ministry as our IWS Chaplain! Your example of a gentle and faithful servant will always stick with me. Your contagious smile always brought a glow to our chapel services. Your upraised arms to the Lord directed my heart upward. I’m grateful for having been with you in those services and sessions.  I first heard the words, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” from you, Darrell, and I will never forget them. They have transformed me in many ways.  May you be blessed, my brother. 

Brian Walker, M.W.S. 2014

During my time at IWS, I always appreciated Darrell bringing the Word of the Lord alive. It was a wonderful way to start the morning before going to class! 

Dyton Owen, D.W.S. 2009

One of my fondest IWS memories was getting to know Darrell.  His infectious attitude, constant smile, and warm spirit will always be a part of my memories. Darrell was a huge part—along with Bob Webber and the Kappa class—of making sure I returned to IWS during a very trying personal time. Darrel pulled me aside after learning of my on-going divorce and literally “took me for a walk” and listened to me, even when I was simply prattling on. His gentle but honest words, his prayer with me, and his encouragement helped ensure I would return and finish my studies. He will be missed at IWS, but he will be well-remembered by many who were touched by his presence and friendship. Thank you, Darrell!

Laura Keefer, D.W.S., 2007

Darrell’s morning chapels were a highlight of my time at IWS. He always spoke right to where I was in my spiritual walk. He was a true gift to IWS and will surely be missed!

David Suum, D.W.S. 2015 & Man Zen Niiang, M.W.S. 2015

Darrell, we remember your smiling face and tender heart. In fact, we are seeking to carry in our ministries what you have modeled for us. We both felt a warm welcome at IWS when you took the time to talk with us and show your care especially since we are from Southeast Asia. We have seen how much you love God and the students through the messages you shared and through your life. You know how to use the gifts and talents of the students in chapel. We will never forget that Niiang had the opportunity to worship through the Myanmar traditional dance as it was part of your message. You are very much appreciated for your 20 years of faithful service at IWS. You have laid a great milestone for God and the renewal of worship through IWS. May God’s best be yours!

Tami Cinquemani, M.W.S. 2015

As a woman returning to studies after far too many years, my soul was calmed and my spirits lifted by your gentle and consistent uplifting of Jesus. I looked forward to chapel services as one of the most engaging and centering experiences during the intensive sessions. Thank you for dedicating your life to the gospel and for your influence in the lives of so many of us who seek to understand and share the beauty and mystery of worship. Your leadership will be missed. Many blessings.

Mark Davison, D.W.S. 2011

I first met Darrell when I arrived at IWS in January of 2007. I immediately felt welcomed by him. I subsequently came to look forward to his talks during each chapel. His messages were always encouraging and directive to our faith. I have often said that everyone seems to have felt valuable when in Bob’s presence. The same is very true of my experience with Darrell. Although I completed my studies at IWS 10 years ago, I know that he will always have time for me. Ut fidem, brother Darrel!

Patrick Friesen, D.W.S. 2015

Darrell’s humble approach to exploring Christian spirituality in his chapel talks drew from a wide berth of Christian tradition, which, in turn, invited me to consider my faith through new perspectives. I appreciated the example he would set by consistently drawing from and often deferring to the scholars who shape the academic component of IWS. All the best as you continue to serve.

Jordon Elgie, M.W.S. 2019

A brief memory I have of Darrell is from June of 2017. I was in MWS 502 and had been asked to join the chapel band to play drums. I was still feeling a bit like “the new guy” as everyone else in the chapel band at the time was further along in their IWS journey. After one of our early morning rehearsals, Darrell made his way by me, paused, smiled at me and gently said, “Thank you for your ministry.”  I wasn’t feeling particularly uncomfortable or out of place before his remark, but his words and the spirit in which he delivered them seemed to add a new depth of comfort for me as a part of the chapel band.

Christian Diffenderfer, D.W.S. 2008

At the very beginning of the IWS journey for a young Nazarene pastor, Darrell introduced him to a liturgy of morning prayer that was warm, rich, and compelling, and became a deeply sacramental experience. “Open our lips . . .” was the prayer that ran through every note of praise, every chanted psalm, and every quiet meditation in the historic chapel with the creaky floors in Orange Park. Under Darrell’s guidance and infused with his own joyful confidence in the God we all serve, worship at IWS demonstrated the authenticity and depth of the ancient-future renewal we came to learn, experience, and carry back to our communities. And under his leadership, that young Nazarene pastor discovered a world of Christian worship and prayer for which he had yearned and through which he found new direction and purpose in ministry and life. Thank you, Darrell!

Julia Fitzpatrick, M.W.S. 2015

I watched all of Darrell Harris’ Chapel Series prior to enrolling at IWS. I was encouraged, inspired, and challenged by his chapel meditations. During the MWS 502 History of Christian Worship class, I became intrigued by the kiss of peace as part of the passing of the peace and it became the focus of my research paper. I shared my newly gained insights with Darrell and he shared in my joy, confidence, and commitment. When I received my degree during commencement, Darrell congratulated me with this greeting. I will always be grateful for the thoughtfulness and joy for the Lord which Darrell exuded.

Tony McNeill, D.W.S. 2009

Darrell Harris’ formative leadership in chapel during my time at IWS was a “bonus” course I looked forward to each day during intensives. He modeled the selfless, caring and just leadership IWS seeks to instill in its students. Each chapel service was an opportunity for students, faculty, and community to see the vision of IWS embodied. Darrell’s preaching, gestures, smiles, eye contact, and love for IWS taught many lessons beyond the course curriculum. Thank you, Darrell! Your wisdom and experience fascinate me. I continue to marvel at what God has done/is doing through you. We love you, my friend. 

Teresa Gardner, M.W.S 2008, D.W.S. 2011

How blessed we were by Darrell’s deep insights and spiritually transforming chapel talks. I truly appreciated how Darrell welcomed and encouraged the use of the students’ different gifts in the morning chapels. Darrell, you are a jewel reflecting God’s glory that shown brightly upon us all.

Jonathan Powers, D.W.S. 2013

It did not take me long to feel at home at IWS when I first began my doctoral studies in January 2010. I was eager to take in all I could, from classes to practicum presentations to chapel services. By my side, through it all, was a little red notebook in which I would jot down thoughts, ideas, and quotes that I wanted to remember for years to come. I keep that book in my office within reach of my desk in case I need an encouraging word or want to be reminded of a good challenge I received while at IWS. Unsurprisingly, a good amount of the notebook is filled with statements Darrel Harris made in chapel services. His pastoral wisdom and insights were always profound, and his care for the IWS community was evident by his gentle but convicted nature when he spoke. Darrel embodied the best of what any institution could want in a chaplain. His guidance continues to impact and lead me a decade later.

Susan Huckaby, D.W.S. 2006

Darrell was kind to make me feel welcome at IWS. When we first meet at IWS, we discovered that we lived about five miles apart in Tennessee. He and Janet were hospitable when I visited their home church, and they visited the new church plant in Tennessee where I served on staff. Both were supportive and encouraging. Thank you for your leadership and inspiration at IWS.

Bill Kirkwood, D.W.S, 2018

Darrell always presented himself as an amazingly compassionate person. When I unexpectedly lost my worship position while taking DWS 704, he was one of the first to reach out with an offer to talk. I will always remember that phone conversation and the lifetime of godly wisdom and love he shared. It gave me the strength to know that my IWS family, represented by its chaplain, were praying and helping to carry the burden. Thank you, Chaplain Darrell.

Steve Tice, D.W.S. 2013

During my first session at IWS, Darrell’s chapel messages on contrasting dyads that describe ancient-future worship (e.g., Trinitarian and Christocentric) set the stage for the formative experience that was IWS for me. I often refer to those concepts in my teaching and ministry. His willingness to serve has been an example—from allowing me to interview him for one of my project papers, to serving together in leading a worship conference, to giving me advice on places to hear up-and-coming talent during a recent visit to Nashville. I thank God for the opportunity to know Darrell and experience his heart for God!

Elizabeth Nance-Coker, D.W.S. 2016

Darrell, as Chaplain of IWS, you modeled for the students an effervescently joyful ministry of presence. During Chapel services, you guided us through new patterns of prayer and worship and brought your wealth of life experiences into solid take-aways that joined God’s Story with our story at IWS. Through your skillful incorporation of the visual arts, you helped enlarge our vision for utilizing all the senses to glorify God. During our on-campus sessions, you became well-acquainted with us and you prayed for us as we encountered challenges in our ministry contexts. My heart is filled with gratefulness for the ways you poured yourself into the IWS community. May you be richly blessed, my friend.

Don Barrick, D.W.S. 2008

Darrell, I want to express my appreciation for your great work at IWS. I remember the first time I heard you speak at our convocation. I was moved by your spirit and your genuine heart for worship. Thank you for pouring into my life, and thank you for being the kind of servant-leader that is worth emulating.

Fred Heumann, M.W.S. 2015

Darrell, on my long journey to finally get to IWS, you were the surprise. While having known you for a long time, I wasn’t prepared for all the value you added to the IWS experience. Your ability to combine the savvy and the sacred with vulnerability and wisdom, encouragement and exhortation was always challenging.  And you managed to cook up quite a stew from film, pop culture, your life, the Bible, history, and theology that never failed to be tasty. I will always treasure the wide-ranging chats we had on those late-night flights back to Nashville after most of my study sessions at IWS. It seems we rode together more often than not! Thanks for your investment and your encouragement. You have added great value to me and what I do. God’s richest blessings to you and yours!

Jennifer Harris, D.W.S. 2015

Darrell and I often joked together about being cousins since we had the same last name. He was always welcoming at IWS, and his presence instilled Southern-style hospitality. His smile, hug, and remembrance made you feel like part of the family. His inclusive personality and including nature will be greatly missed at IWS. Times with Darrell remain some of the best memories of my IWS experience, characterized by his amazing sense of humor, his smile, and his love.

Claire Partlow, D.W.S. 2011

Darrell offers each person he encounters a warm, easy-going welcome—whether up-close and personal or in a homily before a crowd. His demeanor can almost belie his depth of thought and height of passion. Here is an example. I was researching early house churches and worship in alternative settings with non-ordained leaders. I asked Darrell about women’s roles in ministry. His quick answer, delivered with twinkling eyes and a hearty laugh was, “As far as I remember, it was the women who ran to tell Peter and the boys that the Lord had risen from the dead, making them the first evangelists.” Darrell’s pure delight in that moment almost masked the biblical and historical perusal he’d carefully performed as well as his passion for ministry by, for, and to the “other.”

Michael Toney, D.W.S. 2016

I recall my days as a Delta II student at IWS with gratitude and fondness. My spiritual formation was enriched by each gathering as I fed on the academic and spiritual wisdom of my professors and friends with whom I was blessed to share the experience. Many aspects of my worship formation were primed during the brief, but oh so profound, chapel services. During each service, our chaplain, Darrell Harris, spoke wisdom to my spirit with words that were at times like a balm, and at other times like an arrow—truths that warmed me and truths that challenged me. I often marveled at Darrell’s breadth of knowledge. How could one person know so much about music, art, and literature? And what a lovely gift to be able to distill the truths of Scripture and the arts, uniting the strengths of each to craft a brief word of devotion each morning that strengthened my own devotion to the triune God. What a treasure I have in my experiences with Darrell. The mark of his influence will remain on my life and ministry for a very long time, encouraging me as I relate to God and to my congregation. Thanks be to God for this wonderful servant of Christ! As Darrell would say, I have been wonderfully ruined by the influence of IWS on my life. Thanks be to God!

Catherine Stapleton Nance, D.W.S. 2019

Dear Darrell, during my time as a student at IWS, I rarely had the pleasure of talking with you directly (my loss), yet you made an amazing impact on me. I had no idea the difference your carefully planned chapel services would make, especially your messages. You always had something for me to learn, something for me to ponder, and something to give me renewed hope. I still listen to your chapel services and recall with joy those wonderful messages.  It was also meaningful to hear your stories about Bob Webber since many students did not have the pleasure of knowing him. Thank you so much for your years of service and for the legacy you have left at our school. May it carry on for years to come.

About the author

Alumni Director, Practicum Professor, and DWS graduate.