New pastor takes windy path to pulpit

Rev. R. Duane Coates’s journey to the pulpit may have been unconventional in the sense that he had already been educated and was fostering a budding career in another industry when he received his call to the ministry.

Rev. R. Duane Coates, who started with the Hettinger United Methodist church in July, said he hopes to make an impact on the community. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

By COLE BENZ | Record Editor

Rev. R. Duane Coates’s journey to the pulpit may have been unconventional in the sense that he had already been educated and was fostering a budding career in another industry when he received his call to the ministry.

From high school, Coates had a penchant for journalism. While working with his high school newspaper, he broke a rather controversial story during a time when the school system was beginning to educate students about the AIDS epidemic during the late 1980s.

From there he set foot on a path to journalism.

After he was born in Pierre, S.D., his family relocated to Timber Lake (South Dakota) and then graduated from Winner High School and attended college in-state, receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in Brookings.

During his career in print news, Coates won many awards from the newspaper associations in North Dakota and South Dakota. He was on the front lines of a 50,000-circulation newspaper during the 2000 Presidential Election and the attacks of 9/11.

Yet he still could not ignore a call to the ministry.

The pull to the alter first tugged at him after his freshman year in college, while he was working for a Lutheran church camp.

Located in the Black Hills, Outlaw Ranch was home to weekly campers throughout the summer. Coates said throughout the week he would see the kids arrive hesitantly, and leave happy from their experience.

So as he witnessed the messages build up the faith of the young campers, he thought “what happens when they need to be rebuilt?”

“At some point, somebody’s theology is going to break down, the experience that we had at camp is going to fall apart and people aren’t going to be able to use it the way it was intended to be used, somebody is going to need to put it back together,” Coates said. “I thought, ‘who does that?,’ well, that’s the work of a local pastor.”

So he wrote to his father, a minister himself.

His father responded, and assured Coates that he could do anything he wanted, and that he didn’t have to follow in his footsteps. So he continued his journalism education.

Upon graduation, he was first employed with the Dickinson Press from 1992-1995, moved to Valley City in 1995, and finally arrived in Sioux Falls, S.D. at the Argus Leader in 1998.

During his time with the Argus Leader, Coates was a copy editor during the time of the attacks on the World Trade Centers, and he came to realize that perhaps our nation’s priorities have shifted.

The previous year he had spent some time touring Europe, and saw the devastation WWII had on the institutions, which primarily were religious establishments. And after 9/11, he realized that 60 years ago the enemy attacked churches to affect the moral of civilians, now the terrorists were targeting commercial establishments and government buildings.

“They knew that that’s where our devotion lied,” Coates said. “I was like ‘what have we become?’”

So he made the decision to follow the call he couldn’t ignore any longer.

“I left [the Argus Leader] in 2003, under my own steam, simply because I couldn’t ignore the call to ministry,” Coates said. “I couldn’t resist the call to ministry.”

He enrolled in the Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. in part because its vicinity to the Medill School of Journalism. Following 9/11, there became a real need for religious journalism, so Coates began to think about pursing his call to ministry in conjunction with a continued education in journalism. He thought that if he wanted to, he could perhaps utilize his education in theology to minister others through his work in journalism.

“I liked the idea that my education could be both deep and wide,” he said.

But as he got deeper into his religious studies, he decided to focus primarily on ministry.

Prior too his enrollment in seminary school, Coates began his United Methodist pastoral candidacy in the fall of 2002.

When he graduated from seminary, he was initially sent to Brookings, where he had gone to college and attended church. The pastor he would be working with actually confirmed and performed the wedding ceremony for his sister, so he was very familiar with the congregation. She had also previously been an associate under his father.

He was in Brookings from 2006-2010—officially being ordained in 2009. Following his time in Brookings, he was sent to minister in both Wagner, and Tindall, S.D. then spent time in Sioux Falls before his latest assignment, Hettinger.

Coates arrived in Hettinger on July 7, and he said the time has gone by quickly.

“It’s been four months, but it feels like it just got here,” he said.

Coates is following Paul Lint, who left the area with his wife to be directors as Wesley Acres, a religious camp.

Coates praised the Lints, and was glad to follow them in the ministry at Hettinger. Coates and the Lints have known each other for some years.

“In some ways it’s [nice] to follow a good friend who’s very effective,” Coates said.

When asked about what he hopes to bring to the church, and to Hettinger, Coates told the Record that he wants to bring enthusiasm.

“I hope to bring enthusiasm to the good news of Jesus Christ to not just the people that are [in the United Methodist Church], but also to the community,” he said.

He also hopes to make a large impression for the community with the work of the church.

“I would like to think that if this church ever closed, which I hope it never does, that the community would miss it,” Coates said. “That we would be so integral in the fabric of the community, that if we weren’t doing what we do in this community, there would be a hole.”