Attend a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday evening Lenten service at First Lutheran Church this year and walk away with a work of art.

The seven woodcut prints by the Rev. Scott Duffas, which will be given away to each family that attends the Lenten services at First Lutheran, represent the "I am" sayings of Jesus Christ during his ministry.

Statements like, "I am the way, the truth and the life," or "I am the bread of life," will be topics at each week's sermon, and Duffas has transformed them into visual statements to inspire families for years to come.

Any congregation that is pastored by the Rev. Scott Duffas, 42, is not surprised when Duffas accompanies sermons with his art.

What's unusual here is that Duffas is not a minister in Duluth. He's actually an interim pastor, serving at churches all over the state who are missing a minister. He lives in Owatonna.

But he's collaborated with the Rev. Rebecca Ellenson, who is a minister at First Lutheran, for years. It is Ellenson who will be delivering the sermons during the Lenten services on Wednesday evenings.

The collaboration between these talented young ministers started about seven years ago when Duffas, who was pastoring his first church in Walters at the time, and Ellenson, who was at her first church about five miles away, began collaborating.

"We were new pastors, just out of seminary," she said. "We started doing projects together. One year, we were planning what we were going to do for Lent, and we came up with this idea to do a series on the body of Christ."

Duffas started a wood sculpture of Christ on the cross to accompany this series, working on the hands, one week, for example, when the topic was Christ's hands, or his head, when the topic was his mind.

At the end, a dramatic wooden crucifix hung in the sanctuary, carved during those seven weeks of Lent.

It was an extraordinary experience for the congregation, as well as his ministry, Duffas said.

"You know, one of the things as a preacher that you see from the pulpit is which ones in the congregation fall asleep soon after the sermon starts," he said. "But they were the ones who would come up and check on the progress (of the crucifix). It's a way to talk about faith issues to the folks who couldn't hear the spoken word."

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Instead, they responded to the visual word, he said.

At the end of the series, a parishioner came up to Duffas and asked, "What are you going to do to top this one, pastor?"

Duffas said he realized that taking art home would be even better that just watching it take shape in church.

The artist, who has never had any formal training, had already been doing woodcuts on his own, so he and Ellenson decided that for the next Lenten series they'd accompany each week's sermon with a woodcut about the topic.

"They were image-driven sermons instead of thought-driven sermons," Duffas said.

That series focused on the seven last words of Christ.

These are not the only artworks that Duffas has created for his ministry. In fact, the woodcut series and the crucifix are part of an exhibit at First Lutheran from now until Easter.

The work includes sculptures, drums made from the stumps of old trees, a carved, maple baptismal font and more.

"I've never met anybody like him," Ellenson said. "Besides that, he's a really good pastor. That also is part of what makes his art so good -- it's shaped by his theology and his experience in ministry."

For Duffas, who was trained as an agronomist before entering the seminary, it's another way to preach the gospel. Many of his images come in dreams and seem to have a power of their own.

"I really want it to be touched, to be experienced," he said.

He also loves being an interim pastor, serving congregations who are in transition, he said.

What will he do next?

"We wonder what he will do next," Ellenson said and then laughed. "So does he, he says."

The public is invited to attend the services on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Supper will be served immediately following the service.

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