St. Mark’s newcomer has hard act to follow

The Rev. Ken Malcolm, the new rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Durango, wasn’t ordained as a priest until 2007. He took over at St. Mark’s in June. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

The Rev. Ken Malcolm, the new rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Durango, wasn’t ordained as a priest until 2007. He took over at St. Mark’s in June.

There’s no question he has big shoes to fill.

When the Rev. Ken Malcolm took over as rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in June, he was beginning his tenure at a church that had been led by the Rev. Andrew Cooley for 16 years. Cooley left in May 2011.

“I met Andrew in May at a clergy conference, and we took a three-hour hike in Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Malcolm, 49. “He told me stories about St. Mark’s, its challenges, strengths and where it’s been. It was great to spend so much time with someone this community loved so much.”

Malcolm moved from Austin, Texas, to Durango with his wife, Beth Phautz Malcolm, and sons Douglas, 8, and Peter, 6. He had been the associate rector at St. David’s Episcopal Church, which he called an “Episcotropolis,” a church where 900 people worship every Sunday and two times as many people participate in programs. St. David’s had five priests on staff with more than 20 staff members, a school and numerous programs and missions.

Malcolm, who wasn’t ordained as a priest until 2007, came to his ministry in a roundabout way.

“I grew up in Texas and felt a call of some sort or another from middle school on,” he said. “But what does a 12-year-old boy know? I always thought I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to be an agent for positive change. Now I want to be a conduit for God and the Holy Spirit to make a difference. Maybe there’s a little less ego.”

Although he was baptized in the Roman Catholic faith, his Catholic mother and Methodist father enrolled him in an Episcopal kindergarten, and he eventually attended the associated church. Malcolm was involved in youth groups and went on to spend more than 20 years directing and being a counselor at Episcopal summer camps, spending the rest of the year as an adjunct college professor at Texas Tech University, Oklahoma State and the Dallas/Fort Worth university systems.

“My area of expertise was medieval European history with a minor in architecture,” he said with a grin. “So, of course, they had me teaching American history and Western civilization.”

A job for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, where he ran all the programs from the bishop’s office, confirmed his desire to make the ministry a career, so four years later, he enrolled in the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin.

This is Malcolm’s first calling as rector, but he held a number of responsibilities at St. David’s: preaching at services; officiating at weddings and funerals; oversight of Christian formation, small groups and communications; and working with a variety of committees as well as teaching at his alma mater, the seminary in Austin.

He wasn’t looking for a new position, but St. Mark’s came calling. And despite the size differences, Malcolm sees a great deal of similarities between St. David’s and St. Mark’s, including the types of people who worship at both.

“This is very much a church of people on a journey, seeking a life of faith and building a community,” he said. “We’re on this journey together, and I’m simply a guide.”

When he’s not at St. Mark’s, Malcolm probably will be outdoors in Durango and the surrounding mountains.

“I like to hike, run, mountain bike,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to living in a place where skiing is a weekly occurrence.”

He also has had a passion for feeding people since he learned to cook in the third grade, so he has explored volunteering with Manna Soup Kitchen and Durango Food Bank.

But he expects to stay busy during his first year at St. Mark’s.

“This is a church poised for a new era of growth and programs,” Malcolm said. “And we don’t have any ‘room at the inn.’ We’re quite full with 40 or 50 more people every Sunday than a year ago. There’s a lot of energy in the water for new things.”