Patricia E. Clawson
When Donald J. Duff turns over his responsibilities to George Cottenden at the General Assembly in July, Don will retire after serving as the first full-time and the longest-serving stated clerk in the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (The two men are pictured above, standing.) He leaves with his passion for the church that he learned from his missionary parents, Clarence and Dora Duff.
Don was born in Ethiopia in 1938. His family soon had to leave Africa during World War II. They moved to Colorado, where his father ministered in the coal mining town of Oak Creek. In 1943, his father traveled alone to Eritrea, and twenty-two months later Dora, Don, and his sister Dorothy were given visas and sailed in a military convoy to Eritrea. In 1953, Don and Dorothy sailed by themselves from Africa to America to finish high school in New Jersey.
After graduating from Calvin College in 1960, Don attended Westminster Theological Seminary and served as an intern at Bayview OPC in Chula Vista, California, under Robert Graham. He then helped start the OP church in Hanover Park, Illinois, and taught Bible at Timothy Christian School in Elmhurst, Illinois. He also corresponded with the Grahams' daughter Peggy (Margaret). In 1966, Don married Peggy, with George Marsden, also an intern under Graham, serving as best man.
Two years later, Don was ordained by the Presbytery of Wisconsin (now the Presbytery of the Midwest). He served OP congregations in Grand Junction, Colorado; Bonita, California; and Oxnard, California. In 1992, he was elected stated clerk of the General Assembly.
During his eighteen-year tenure as stated clerk, Don oversaw a technological revolution that computerized the way the stated clerk does his job. Many know Don from seeing him sitting at a table in front of the assembly, next to John Mahaffy, his assistant clerk. "He has set a high standard for the office," said John, who also grew up on the Eritrean mission fields. "No task done in (the church's) service is too humble or menial. That is a love that one saw in his parents, willing to treat smelly sores as they spoke of the Lord in Eritrea. That love for the church has motivated Don to be a servant of the church and her Lord."
Over the years, Don has served as moderator of the General Assembly (1989) and on the Ecumenicity, Diaconal Ministries, Revision to the Book of Discipline, and Directory for Worship Committees. He also sat next to Dick Gaffin for twenty-seven years on the Committee on Foreign Missions.
"As in all else he has done as an OPC minister, Don was a conscientious member whose vigorous commitment to the work of the committee was always evident," said Dick, president of the Committee on Foreign Missions. "His contributions to debate in meetings were invariably thoughtful and valued by the rest of us."
Since 2001, Don has been driving to Emmanuel Chapel, in the heart of Philadelphia, not only for worship on Sunday mornings, but also for session meetings that often go late into the evening.
"I've been very appreciative of his mentoring, especially as pertaining to the OPC, navigating The Book of Church Order, and understanding how the denomination and presbytery work," said Matt Stephan, Emmanuel's pastor. "He's not about himself. He has his strong views, but rarely pushes things. I've been impressed with his humility and his love for the church."
Don and Peggy look forward to spending time with their three children and thirteen grandchildren. Family get-togethers resemble a NAPARC gathering, as his children are members of the OPC (Sarah), the Presbyterian Church of America (Joel), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (Jennifer). He hopes to continue his service to the church as opportunities arise.
Reprinted from New Horizons, July 2010.