Lifelong Presbyterian Courtney Ducharme came to PTS after serving 25 years as an intelligence officer in the US Air Force. She gets emotional when talking about her gratitude. “It’s been such a blessing to have this time at PTS to study the things of God, and I’m so impressed with the scholarship and heart of the faculty and administration,” she says.
In 2011, then a colonel, she faced a choice—take command and move to Japan for two years, or retire. She chose the latter to avoid separation from her two daughters, who were then in high school. For the next three years, while working for Deloitte Consulting in Maryland, she found herself increasingly listening to sermons on the drive to work. Courtney felt that God was calling her to do something, though she wasn’t quite sure what it was.
It was during a two-day exploratory visit to PTS that she began to feel the same kind of call to ministry that she had felt to serve her country. With the advice and support of Jan Ammon, Minister of Miller Chapel whom she met during that visit, her husband Jay, and her long-time ministers at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, Courtney applied to PTS.
Though she had been task-oriented throughout her military career, PTS showed Courtney that she also had a heart for compassionate pastoral care. “My spiritual growth has been in patience and in graciously accepting people for who and where they are in their circumstance, while prior I would have helped problem solve for them.”
“It was a great privilege to be in a trusting relationship and have so much in common with these vets, sharing their deepest fears and hopes for the future.”
Courtney was able to combine her military service with her theological call during a leave of absence, in which she served a year-long chaplaincy at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in New York City. She describes her time there, with veterans who suffered from mental illness and/or substance abuse, as a difficult but wonderful experience.
“It was a great privilege to be in a trusting relationship and have so much in common with these vets, sharing their deepest fears and hopes for the future,” she says. “I learned that I’m not any different from them; we all have our struggles and you don’t have to suffer alone.”
Despite living off campus with her husband in Titusville, NJ, she also found a strong community at PTS singing in the chapel choir, and her house became a gathering place for friends, faculty, and fellow seminarians to come for dinner, talk, and hang out.
Currently Courtney says she and Jay are in a “period of further discerning” and are open to whatever comes next. They plan to spend the summer traveling with their two daughters, who are starting new jobs in August after recently graduating college and graduate school. She has a strong interest in either congregational or chaplaincy work with the VA in a location that keeps her close to her mother.
PTS has helped Courtney appreciate that “the holy spirit helps open our eyes when the time is right for us,” she says. She quotes a line of scripture: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” and says, “Sometimes God has to repeat God’s self to me before I get it, but I’m trying to listen much more closely!”