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The science of service

Furman Alum David Sibley

Though some may argue science and religion are irreconcilable fields, David Sibley ’07 proves that they intersect. Sibley serves as Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Manhasset, NY, but in college he was set on becoming a chemist.

“I fell in love with the sciences at a young age and decided early on I would major in chemistry.” Sibley completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemistry at Furman and conducted research in photochemistry and transition metal complexes, studying anti-cancer agents that became active under certain wavelengths of light.

Sibley describes himself as a “cradle Episcopalian,” and in college he found his religion really did suit him. In the summer between his junior and senior year, members of Sibley’s church asked him if he had ever considered becoming ordained. His answer was always no. But during his senior year, Sibley discerned a call to ordination. For Sibley, that time was particularly stressful as he worked though important questions about whether he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry, or if he wanted to become a priest.

Sibley fondly recalls the support and kindness of his Furman professors, particularly Dr. Lon Knight, who at the time served as the Chemistry Department chair. “I couldn’t have done it anywhere else…the professors cared about me, even though they knew I might not be a Ph.D. statistic,” Sibley says.

He retained his scholarship even when he was unsure he would continue to pursue chemistry, and during his senior year he was recognized as a Furman Fellow. As he went on to complete his masters, Sibley decided to attend seminary. And after graduation in 2008, he moved to New York to begin his studies for priesthood at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in Manhattan. He graduated with his M.Div. in 2011, became ordained, and served as priest of Saint John’s Church in Brooklyn that same year. Then, in the summer of 2014, Sibley became Rector of Christ Episcopal Church.

“My background in chemistry has been incredibly useful in my position as Rector.” Sibley describes how important he has found the method of analytical thinking he learned at Furman, particularly the Scientific Method. “Ministry is just as unpredictable as the lab, and the ability to try and fail is so important. You might just stumble onto something useful.” There is a long history of scientific breakthroughs being made during failures in the lab, and outside the lab, failure is just as much part of the process of discovery.

In his position as Rector, Sibley does “a little bit of everything.” These responsibilities include what one would expect: studying for sermons, hospital visits, pre-marriage and death counseling, and presiding the Eucharist. But Sibley is also responsible for church finances, building maintenance, and community involvement. “The hardest part about my job, and I think in any caring profession, is that you can work day and night.” Sibley reflects how this is especially true in times of grief. “I’ve
found it is important to be well-rounded and to find nourishment from outside my job as well as inside it.”

Sibley cherishes his involvement in the lives of those in his parish. “The look of joy and expectation in the eyes of children as they hold out their hands to receive Communion is wonderful for me.” He considers his role as the person who attends both funerals and weddings, providing support in moments of crisis and of joy, as the best part of his job. “I’m invited into some of the most intimate and defining moments for people, and to me, that is so amazing.”

When asked what advice he would give to Furman students, Sibley returns to his roots in the Chemistry lab. “Don’t be afraid to fail—savor the experience. Fail gloriously.”

 

 

 

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