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Chaplain imparts insights about God’s hand at work in people’s lives

The Rev. Gail Duba hopes retirement residents she encounters as chaplain will experience a sense of God’s role in their life journeys, as she has.

She didn’t plan to work in a retirement community, but her experiences as a high school biology teacher, forester, Christian education director and Lutheran pastor each help her relate to the diverse people in that community as she serves their spiritual needs.

Gail Duba
Gail Duba, Chaplain at Rockwood South

Her ministry as chaplain at Rockwood South came as a surprise after seven years as associate pastor at Cental Lutheran Church in Spokane.

She said she learns as she goes. Every day, she acquires new insights and grows closer to the people she serves.

“I know God will use me here as much as God used me in the church. Each place I served was where I was supposed to be as part of God’s plan,” she said.

“In God’s economy, nothing is wasted,” said Gail, describing her conviction that there is a purpose for everything—even if the reason isn’t always apparent.

“It means God is putting the things we have done into an intricate pattern we can build on. Everything that I have done has helped lead me to where I am today,” she said.

Through her life journey, faith has strengthened Gail, inspiring her to explore new territory—studying in Germany as a young adult, spending two years in Saudi Arabia, and work in forestry, education and then ministry.

Her faith has led her into pastoral care. After earning a seminary degree at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., Gail started at Central Lutheran as a student intern.

Rockwood South is a retirement community with more than 430 residents and about 200 staff members. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Rockwood has provided care for seniors for more than 40 years.

In her first six months as director of pastoral care, Gail said her role has been to lead ecumenical worship, conduct services, lead a Bible study, prepare devotions for management meetings, support staff and visit with residents.

On Sundays at 9:30 a.m., she leads a half-hour service in Rockwood’s atrium for people with memory impairment or needing assistance with day-to-day tasks.

A half hour later, the community gathers for an ecumenical worship service that includes hymns, prayer, a sermon and monthly communion.

“We seek to keep people involved in their churches,” she explained, “but there comes a time when it becomes too hard to go out.”

Gail has not officiated at baptisms or weddings at Rockwood, nor does she deal with management or finances.  She can devote her time to pastoral care for staff and residents.

She has an open-door policy, so people can just stop by her office and talk about God, spirituality and other issues and concerns.

“People here are in a different place in life experience. When I talk to people here about their future plans, it’s a shorter duration. We focus on the spiritual dimensions of their lives,” she said.

At 57, Gail is more than a decade younger than most residents, but people appreciate her perspective and value the life experiences she brings to the job.  In subtle ways, she incorporates her life experiences to encourage residents to share their own stories. 

As a member of the Faith and Environment Network, she shares with residents her passion for the Earth and sustainability.  Rockwood residents care, too.

Growing up Lutheran in a family of five children in Canon City, Colo., she said her parents nurtured her love of nature.  Gail learned about the connection between faith and preserving the Earth.  Her father, who died two years ago at 90, was a forester who devoted his life to caring for the environment. Her mother was a teacher

Gail earned a biology degree at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Before graduating, she spent eight months traveling in Europe and the Middle East. Based in Reutlingen, Germany, she studied theology and the teachings and life of Martin Luther.  Travel in Israel, Greece, Egypt and other countries brought appreciation of each unique culture, awareness that has shaped her life and faith.

After graduating from Valparaiso, Gail taught high school biology for several years in Colorado before she studied for a master’s degree in forestry at Colorado State University.

While there, she fell in love with David Duba, a rangeland ecologist.  Eight months after they met, they married at a camp Gail attended as a child.

A week later, they left for Saudi Arabia, where David did research on vegetation near Jeddah for two years. As his assistant, Gail learned about Arab and Muslim culture.  She went into the field and met men who worked with him.  She also spent time with Muslim women and children.

“I learned religious tolerance.  Everyone has their own way of looking at the world,” she said.

Gail finished her master’s degree and worked in forestry for four years in Boise, before they moved to Seattle so David could attend the University of Washington Medical School.

In 1989, with three boys—aged seven, four and one—they moved to Minneapolis for David’s residency in rehabilitation medicine.

Gail’s journey took another turn as she became aware of a yearning to work in a church.  Her volunteer church work and her background in education led her to serve as a Christian education director for a church south of Minneapolis.

No longer a forester, Gail volunteered with outdoor organizations and shared her love of nature with her sons and others.

In 1992, the family moved to Spokane. Gail worked in Christian education at Christ Lutheran Church. Her call grew.

“Whenever I led worship, I felt like I was on holy ground,” she said. “It was a call to ministry.”

At 45, Gail entered long-distance seminary studies at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. Four times a year, she traveled to Berkeley to attend classes.

“I don’t remember feeling uncertainty.  I felt God’s hand was in my call,” she said.  “Feeling called, I didn’t worry about what was going to be next.”

For information, call 536-6650.