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Duane Paetznick and Paul Harrington: Pastors and Writers by Grace Olson

This time, I got to speak with two authors simultaneously about their book, Behind the Pulpit. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with Mr. Paul Harrington and Mr. Duane Paetznick. Unfortunately, the third co-author, Roger Eigenfield, could not attend the interview, so I didn't get to hear his input. However, all three men have been involved in church-oriented activities in some way throughout their lives.

For over a decade, Mr. Duane Paetznick was the Director of Christian Education at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, while attending Luther Seminary in St. Paul. After graduating from the seminary in 1993, Mr. Paetznick was called to be an Associate Pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. Mr. Paetznick retired after a twenty-seven-year career as an Associate Pastor.

Mr. Paul Harrington also graduated from Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul, but unlike Mr. Paetznick, he went to Detroit, Michigan, working at a congregation there for nine years. In 1980, Mr. Harrington created a mission church where he served as senior pastor and a pastor emeritus for 33 years. When he retired, Mr. Harrington's church had grown from three families as members to have over 9,000 members

Unfortunately, because I didn't get the pleasure of talking to Mr. Eigenfield, I don't know too much about his background.

I began the conversation by asking each man what inspired him to write this book and collaborate with his co-authors. Mr. Paetznick answered with, "I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I never had the chance to. When I retired two years ago, I thought ‘maybe I should write a book.’" He contacted a fellow pastor, one with experience writing books, named Chuck Tindall, and they brainstormed concepts for Mr. Paetznick's book. "One of the thoughts was to write on with Paul and Roger," he explained, "because shortly before that meeting, I had been emailing with both, and I had worked with them, and I knew they were excellent writers. Their stories had not been told." And so everything came together. Mr. Tindall continued to mentor Mr. Paetznick throughout the writing process. All three men agreed to write the book together.

Mr. Harrington's answer was much different. "Part of my answer is Covid," he said. "We started this right after Covid hit, and then everything was shut down. All three of us enjoyed writing in our ministry practices. We wrote sermons and church newsletters. We definitely weren't afraid to start writing." Since Mr. Harrington, along with Mr. Eigenfield, had both started in small congregations and acquired thousands of new members for their congregations, the goal of the book, for Mr. Harrington, was to compare and contrast how they developed in reference to programs and leadership styles, along with other things that go into helping ministry. "Duane did an excellent job of weaving everything together," Mr. Harrington said of his co-author. "Each of us would write, and we went chapter by chapter, then we'd submit it to Duane, and he'd weave it all together."

Both of these men have been writers for a lot of their lives. As pastors, there was a lot of writing involved in their careers. They wrote sermons, contributed pieces to the church newsletters, and lots of writing was needed for seminary school. "I’ve been clearing out my office,” Mr. Harrington said, and I have a file that’s at least five inches thick, and it’s full of letters that I’ve written over the years.” With so much writing involved in both of their careers, it was no surprise that writing came easily to them. Mr. Harrington was even an English major in college!

Continuing with the trend of past literary experience, I asked them about their favorite books as children. “I’ve never been a huge fiction reader,” Mr. Paetznick explained. “A lot of the reading I’ve done over the years was more out of necessity for preaching. I’m more drawn to nonfiction because of it. Even when I read murder mysteries, the murder was real, not fictional. Which lead me into writing nonfiction.” Mr. Harrington echoed the sentiment, saying, “I’m more drawn to that stuff, too. Fiction novels in high school put me to sleep.” So, they didn’t seem to have an answer for me, but it was still interesting because I haven’t met many writers more drawn to nonfiction than fiction. So, maybe I should test out some nonfiction.

Moving onto the experience of writing the book, I asked about each man’s favorite moment in the process. Mr. Harrington jokingly said, “being done.” “I loved every minute of it,” Mr. Paetznick said, “but I have two special favorites; one was when Paul and Roger agreed to do the project with me, and two was when we had book signings at the churches mentioned in the book, St. Andrews and Shepherd of the Valley. That was truly amazing.” Then, Mr. Harrington gave his honest answer, saying, “Kirk House has been a joy to work with. I thought the whole thing was a lot of fun!” I was glad to see that both men had a great time creating their book. I love it when writers are passionate about their work.

As for a final message for readers when they finish Behind the Pulpit, both authors said different things, which I found fascinating. Mr. Paetznick answered with, “I want people to find the sense of the history and the story of these congregations, Shepherd of the Valley and St. Andrews. I’m looking at this from more of a historical point of view, and that’s what I hope people learn about.” Mr. Harrington said, “I’d like to think that anybody reading this book would come away with ideas for their own parish experience. I want them to think, ‘wow, maybe I can do this!’ I want them to have practical advice.” Judging from the response from the co-authors, Behind the Pulpit is a How-To book about growing a church congregation. I was glad to see these two authors feeling so passionate about growing their congregations and teaching other pastors how to do so.

For my favorite question to ask authors: what advice would you give to a young writer? As life-long and very experienced writers, I expected to hear some great advice from these men, and I sure did! Mr. Paetznick answered with, “Go for it! It’s going to be a learning process for you, as it was for me, but you have to start somewhere.” I love hearing other writers encouraging me to take the plunge with my own work. No matter what kind of writer they are, whether they write fiction or nonfiction, I love it when they tell me to go for it. Mr. Harrington said, “Write about subject matters and material that you’re interested in. Don't write about something you don't care about. It’ll show through your writing, and it won’t be as good a piece as if you’re writing about what you’re passionate about. Find your niche.” More great advice! I find that when I’m writing a school paper about something I’m not interested in, like the benefits of online schooling, my writing isn’t as good as when I’m writing about romance or magic. Mr. Harrington points out a good piece of advice here.

Both men have given me the gift of their time, and it was time well used. I appreciate what I learned from them, and I hope you all enjoy reading about what I have learned. Thank you!

Happy reading!

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