Rejoicing & Weeping: Chaplain Ministers in Life and Death

By Chaplain Travis Hairston

Rejoicing: My greatest blessing this quarter was taking over the Main Post Chapel Protestant service children’s ministry. When I arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) this past January I was asked by the Garrison chaplain to consider serving as the Main Post Chapel’s children’s pastor since the chaplain currently over this ministry was about to leave, and since I have had a lot of experience in working as an education director while pastoring. Since accepting this assignment 4 weeks ago, we have grown from 20 to 30 children in the children’s church and are starting a new youth Sunday school class. New families have begun attending the chapel and the kids are excited each week to learn about Jesus.

Weeping: A month ago, we had a suicide in our battalion. A new Soldier, just out of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training, arrived at the unit; and 36-hours later he killed himself in his room. The 36-hours he was with our unit, he was made to feel welcome and supported. My Soldiers are still struggling with the “why” questions and some even blame themselves for not doing “more.” I would appreciate prayers for this Soldier’s family and for this Company who is still struggling with this loss.

Director’s Comments: Chaplains ride a rollercoaster of emotions on a daily/weekly basis, “rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Pray for their focus on each person and situation they encounter.

 

For other stories of ministry, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information on endorsement as a chaplain, email Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

 

Baptism near a Blast Wall: Easter Sunday Baptism in Afghanistan

By Chaplain Paul Castillo, USAF, with Chaplain Andy Meverden

The email message was short and to the point:

Andy,

A beautiful baptism on  Easter Sunday at Enduring Faith Chapel on Bagram Airfield.

The Lord continues to bless.

I should be home in a few weeks.

Blessings,

Paul

Director, Andy Meverden writes:

That’s just like Chaplain Paul; focused on ministering to the Troops and unwilling to toot his own horn. Fortunately for us, he sent an occasional photo of significant ministry events.  Like last October, when he met with fellow CBAmerica Chaplain Scott Noyes before Scott returned home after deployment with the North Dakota Army National Guard.

Then there was the Christmas photo of Paul with his Ministry Team at Bagram Air Base.  Paul shared their names, ministry assignments and significant contributions to the Team.  It was obvious he was proud of each one, and valued their ministry.

Then there was that “secret photo” of Paul and the VPOTUS, Mike Pence, the President’s special, clandestine 2017 Christmas envoy to our deployed Troops.  Again, there was a short message with the photo: “Oh, by the way, I got to meet and greet Vice President Pence.”  (Maybe I wasn’t supposed to share that photo!?)

As I recall, Paul didn’t have to go to Afghanistan.  There was a need for a senior chaplain, and, with Family and Command support, he said, “Here am I, send me.”   From the pictures, it’s apparent that God used him; as a senior officer, a supervisory chaplain, a “fellow-chaplain,” and a minister of the Gospel to those in need of a Savior…near a blast wall!

For more stories and photos of CBAmerica chaplains serving at home and abroad, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.

 

My Brother’s Faith: Understanding the Beliefs of Others Without Compromising Your Own

A Book Review, By Chaplain (Captain) Andrew E. Calvert, US Army

Fisher, Carlton. My Brother’s Faith: Understanding the Beliefs of Others Without Compromising Your Own. Wetumpka, AL: Peace Fish, 2014.  308 pages.

The drive to love and its opposite—fear—is predominant in Carlton Fisher’s approach to understanding the others’ religious worldview. In his book, My Brother’s Faith, he emphasizes that love for the other drives out the fear of the unknown. The one who is adept at loving improves personal resilience and understands the other’s spiritual practices without compromising personal beliefs.  Environment and heredity shape a worldview.  A spiritually mature person is able to find satisfaction in relationships, purpose in life, and comprehension of his own worldview.  Fisher’s volume is summarized in eleven words: Understanding a different worldview requires a clear comprehension of your own.

Fisher instructs the reader to understand the context of his spiritual health by posing the following questions: Where and when are you from?  Who and what do you come from?  How do you fit in that source?  The answers to these questions establish a three-continuum scale operating simultaneously: 1) the stages of spiritual growth, 2) the stages of love, and 3) the level of certainty versus mystery in religious practice.  Using an introspective understanding of these scales, Fisher constructs a framework to approach the beliefs of others and an approach to disparate people as a whole.  Finally, the author pulls the various strings of thought together to make sense of the spiritual journey.

Spiritual maturity, the first scale, is lofty and takes time. Much like other cycles of life, spirituality exists in loosely defined stages: disorder, duty, doubting, and discovery. Disorder is the infantile stage of seeking happiness or entertainment over meaning.  Through maturation, spirituality transitions to duty attempting to apply meaning to ritual practices. Some people transition from duty to doubting; doubting allows for the ‘why’ questions.  The doubting stage is difficult and leads to three ends: a return to duty, an abandonment of faith practice, or to a level of greater maturity—discovery.  Discovery is still a search, yet the goal is to learn, and the fear of the unknown is less important.  A person can move in and out of these stages over a lifetime.  He may practice in duty and then doubt and after may draw on discovery throughout the course of a day or in a matter of a few minutes.

The stages of love are similar to spiritual growth. Fisher, drawing on Bernard of Clairvaux, describes the growing ability to love in four ways: 1) love self for self’s sake, 2) love God for self’s sake, 3) love God for God’s sake, and 4) love self for God’s sake. The lens of love changes as we see others and ourselves the way God views us.  Hard work and time are necessary to strengthen the ability to love and move away from fear—or at least not to allow fear to have control.

Fisher’s third scale calls a religious practitioner to own his own faith. It is this scale that largely shapes a religious worldview.  Although a group of people may commit to a similar faith, each approaches the door of his faith with unique feelings, thoughts, and nuances.  For some, faith has little to do with certainty, rather faith is embracing wonder and mystery.  Others would say a handful of ideas are certainty in religious faith, but the existentialism of wonder and mystery are more important.  While some have much more certainty in faith and do not spend much emotional energy wondering about supernatural mystery.  The final group would leave little room for mystery saying that real faith and real knowledge go hand-in-hand.

After the faith practitioner identifies his level of certainty versus mystery, adherents to various religious faiths fit somewhere on a nuanced scale identifiable by four signpost markers, which is Fisher’s approach to the beliefs of others. ’My worldview is the only way’ represents the view of others outside the realm of another’s faith as error.  ‘My worldview is closest to the truth’ embodies those who concede that people with another worldview may know enough truth to experience God’s grace.  ‘My worldview is more enlightened’ characterizes people who do not generally make absolute truth claims and who possess a high tolerance for another worldview.  Lastly, ‘all worldviews are relative’ represents those who reject exclusive religious truth claims and validate any worldview as long as it does not hurt others.

The matter of respecting others, Fisher’s approach to people, is often more connected to an individual’s spiritual and emotional maturity than his worldview. Someone may adhere to an exclusive faith, yet still be an inclusive person.  We do not have to respect beliefs that we do not agree with to respect the person who holds such beliefs.  It is quite another matter to hate the dogmatics and the person.  Fisher argues judging others solely on ideology risks being offensive to those who hold such beliefs and hampers the process of building relationships.  When self-assessing solely on systematic theologies, religious practitioners miss opportunities for deeper self-development and frustrate potential personal growth. If the agenda for peace is to make others homogenous with one belief system, then the pursuit of peace will fail.  It is not necessary to have the same worldview to get along, but it is necessary to seek understanding.  Fisher advocates the liberal use of stereotypes acknowledging the use as normal human behavior.  He urges the development of an abundance of stereotypes allowing the interpretive individual to draw on a large breadth of categories to generate sympathy.  Fisher simply states, “We are complex.”

Finally, Fisher applies his exhortation to responsible religious practice in the process of forgiveness leading to reconciliation. If reconciliation is to take place, one has to start with the other’s perception.  If the wall is to be torn down, the spiritually mature and aware person begins by removing a brick from his side of the wall.  When people on the other side see a brick or two removed, perhaps they will begin to remove the bricks from their side.  As the wall is lowered, all may be able to look across the divide and see each other as they really are.

Fisher’s work is well thought out providing an honest framework for interacting and seeking understanding among various religious worldviews. In fact, a careful study of this work is an extremely helpful catalyst in understanding a variety of conflicting worldviews.  Consider the debates around Church and State or the ideological conflicts between Republicans and Democrats.  What if participants applied Fisher’s principles to the historical conflicts among whites and blacks, Catholics and Protestants, or Christianity and Islam?  Our nation needs the help of mature, seasoned religious leaders.  Chaplains are trained and poised to provide leadership in peace-making and peace-building.  Chaplains can stand against fear and exemplify the love of God and love of man.  Carlton Fisher’s book, My Brother’s Faith, is indispensable for the professional growth of every chaplain.

 

Ch (Capt.) Andrew E. Calvert is a ten-year veteran of the United States Army. He is a 2008 graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, with a Masters of Theology and a 2002 graduate of Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas, with a Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal Communications. Chaplain Calvert is endorsed by CBAmerica.

 

GIVE AND TAKE: How a Patient Visit Refreshed a Chaplain’s Soul

By Chaplain Gordon Ruddick

The first patient I saw yesterday was not someone I could do anything for. He had died just a few minutes prior to the start of my shift. Since I was in the office and this one of my patients I was notified of the death. I made my way up to the room at the other end of the hospital.

It had been a sudden death. Not unexpected, but it had slipped in while the son was out of the room and quickly taken this man. I met his young-adult daughter who was sitting on the couch gently crying.

I did what I could to provide support for the daughter and then the son after he reentered the room. The visit was short, the time was spent sharing what they needed to know, and then I was gone as I sensed their need to be alone with dad.

Another day of giving had begun. Now I am not complaining at all. I love my job and the opportunities it gives me to be a loving, caring presence with people who really need that. And so often I am thankful almost beyond words for the opportunities that come my way. I get more than I ever give. But giving is needed.

It had not been a hard day. Sometimes, once in a while, they are. Today had been a day with a lot of variety, which is also why I like being a chaplain. It seems that sometimes I am supposed to receive a bit that I don’t see coming.

I guess this was one of those days.

The last patient I saw yesterday was someone I almost decided not to even try to see. I noticed an order to see her for “anxiety.” She was listed as “no preference,” which is the largest denomination in our part of the country. She also lives in a foster home and has a schizoaffective disorder, meaning that sometimes that can be a real challenge. And sometimes not. I went in.

She was trying to rest. That’s why I had hesitated. Not because of who she was or what I might find.  I saw the sleeping mask just being pulled over her eyes. I understand when people need to rest. But this time I felt I needed to make an exception. I introduced myself. When I said I was a chaplain she was very receptive. And then I noticed what she was listening to. She had her tablet turned on and was listening to contemporary worship songs, most of which I knew.

We sat for a while softly talking on occasion about where she lives and so forth. She told me about her church connection. I actually know some of “her people” and so that was pleasant. Mostly we sat hand in hand and sang some worship music about loving and wanting God’s presence no matter what is going on in our lives. I could sense some of the troubles in her life, some of the loneliness and sorrow, the desire for love and acceptance, the anxiety she sometimes feels. And I could identify with many of those at times in my live as well. We sang about how great our God is. That one is actually one of my favorite songs! We sang about receiving help right in the midst of hard times.

The pager beckoned and my visit needed to be shortened a bit. Worship time was about over. I offered to pray for her and she received that with gladness. She thanked me for coming. I quietly said to her, “No, thank you. Do you know that this has been the best part of my entire day? You have blessed me more than you could know. Thank you!”

“You mean I blessed the preacher?” she said with a look of surprise. I assured her that was true more than she knew.  The “choir of two” was just what I needed to end my day, whether or not I knew it.  How great is our God, and what a privilege I have to live and sing that truth.

Director of Chaplaincy, Andy Meverden, adds:

Chaplain Ruddick, a seasoned hospital chaplain, cardiac patient, and lover of muscle cars, is gifted with a warm heart, listening ears, and beautiful singing voice; all of which he brings to each hospital visit. He has learned to rely on a developed sense of observation, guided by God’s Spirit to discern each patient’s need.  Seeking first to bless, he often comes away with unexpected blessing.

Gordon is one of over 40 CBAmerica chaplains ministering in the healthcare setting. For more stories of ministry experiences, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. For information on pursuing endorsement for chaplaincy, contact Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

Commissioning of the USS Colorado Invocation and Benediction by Chaplain Andrew Meverden

CBAmerica’s Director of Chaplaincy Andrew Meverden at the Commissioning of the USS Colorado a $2.6 billion Virginia class fast attack submarine at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, CT.

Chaplain Meverden is introduced at 7 minutes and delivers the Invocation at around 15 minutes and the Benediction at 1:12:00.

Click here for a good article with photographs of the USS Colorado.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Seeming Impossible Situation

By Chaplain John Hatfield, Rhode Island Army National Guard

Last quarter, I had a special need during our Annual Briefings that was met by a gracious God. I was asked at the last minute to give the suicide prevention brief for the Battalion. In addition to this tasking, I had to perform a wedding that afternoon.

In order to accommodate my schedule, the unit rescheduled all of the briefings for that day. In addition to these details, it was my last drill with this particular unit and I happened to be joined by the incoming Chaplain. Just as I was stepping up to the podium to give the brief, I was notified that there was a soldier in crisis down the hall.

For a moment I froze – what was I going to do? There were about 200 soldiers waiting to hear the brief, the unit had rescheduled the day on my account, I had a wedding to perform … but I had to minister to the soldier. I had a special need at this moment that I had not planned for.

Just then, I realized my need was already met by the LORD. His caring hand moved everything into place. Remarkably, not only was it providential that the incoming Chaplain was with us that day, but in addition, he informed me that he had just finished training on the brief and would be happy to give it.

My need had been supplied and by God’s grace, I was able to minister to the soldier in crisis. In this also the LORD supplied. He gave me just the right words to turn him from suicidal thoughts to taking control of his life and taking positive steps to change. While the soldier was not a Christian, I was able to point him to the One who was there for those in need – both small and great. He did not know that I was experiencing this reality at that very moment!

Chaplain Hatfield asks for prayer:

  • That the Lord would bless my labors at home with my children, as well as with my new unit – the 43rd Military Police Brigade, Rhode Island Army National Guard.

For more stories about CBAmerica chaplains, go to www.cbamerica.org.  To learn more about what it takes to be endorsed as a reserve military chaplain, contact Director of Chaplaincy, Andy Meverden, at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

Honoring the Fallen

Honoring the Fallen: Processing Death on Deployment

By Chaplain Sean Callahan, USAR Deployed to Kuwait

 

On 14 NOV we lost one of our Senior NCOs from the 306th Engineer Company. The death was non-combat related, but the effect of his passing was felt widely throughout the ranks. He was a full-time Soldier (AGR*) in the unit for almost 6 years, and had a huge hand in preparing them for deployment.

The death of a Soldier launched us into a flurry of battle drills, and as the Chaplain, I found myself running point on many of the actions. For those in the military, the Memorial Ceremony is a sacred event. It is essential to properly honoring the Fallen, and allowing the unit to grieve and move forward. As a result, the demands of the Command are extremely high, and all eyes are on the Chaplain because it falls within his realm of expertise. This was no exception, especially because this Soldier was the first (and only) loss we experienced during our deployment.

During the process, God was incredibly gracious. He brought a lot of key staff members together who could handle the tasks that I assigned them with ease, and often went above and beyond in order to solve the many issues that inevitably crop up. Thankfully, Andy** had connected me with a fellow CBA Chaplain prior to the deployment who sent me a Memorial SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) that I was able to use in developing our own unit SOP. With that, the Theater SOP, and lots of prayer, I felt as prepared as I could be while in a position of leadership when the rest of the unit was reeling with disbelief and pain.

Soldiers and leaders alike were open to prayer and conversations during this time. Emotions were raw, questions abounded, and I was able to continually go back to Scripture in an effort to make sense of circumstances and provide true hope and peace to those involved. Memorials may be unwanted duties – because no one wants to experience a loss – but they are truly an honor to be a part of. God opened the doors to some gospel conversations with Soldiers who had never been open to those discussions before. Without a doubt, seeds were planted and I am trusting God to continue watering until they bear fruit.

 

Please join Chaplain Callahan in prayer for:

  • The Soldiers of the 854th Engineer Battalion as they reintegrate at home
  • Opportunities to share the Gospel
  • The Lord’s wisdom and discernment

 

For more stories of ministry by CBAmerica chaplains, military and civilian, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy. To receive information on endorsement, contact Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

 

Notes:

*AGR – “Active Guard and Reserve” (active duty Soldiers assigned to support Reserve and National Guard units)

**Andy – Part of my role as endorser is to support chaplains by providing ministry resources and networking them with other chaplains. In this case, I connected Chaplain Sean Callahan with senior Chaplain Dan Rice who provided current documents and guidance in Theater, prior to this sad event.

RESCUE COMPLETE: Ministry at the Right Time, in the Right Place, in the Right Way

 by Chaplain Gordon Ruddick, Springfield, Oregon

It was getting late in my day. Almost too late to see any other patients. But this one last guy seemed very important. He was a referral from another chaplain.

I had tried once today already, but visitors were in the room. That was definitely not the time to process pain with a patient. It’s often better to try at least the initial process with just the two of us.

This was pretty much my last opportunity for the day. One last shot. I have the next two days off.

So I went back up to the sixth floor again. I waited outside the room for quite a while as staff met his physical needs. As the nurse left and I identified myself she said “He seems to be more calm than he has been. This is a good time for a visit.”

And it was. When I introduced myself to Gary, I saw what I took as a look of relief on his face. Well, maybe mixed in with a bit of concern as well. After all, he didn’t know me or what I was there for. But he admitted needing help. He was confused and just did not know what was going on.

One thing for sure: he was afraid. He mentioned that he and his wife had been pastors many years ago. But now that time was long gone. And so was a lot of his health. And, it seemed, some of his hope was now missing.

Now he just had a lot of questions and concerns. Why couldn’t he think straight? Why did he think about wanting to die? And now he was afraid that God might not love him anymore or be happy with him or…or…he did not know what else. He just knew he was afraid.

I’m imagining he was waiting for a bit of judgment. The “I can’t believe you could be a pastor and not be able to . . .” That didn’t come from me. Instead, we normalized his concerns. Of course we feel fear when we are threatened, facing the unknown in our life, the loss of so many things we are used to. Who wouldn’t? Fear is the first feeling we feel in times of stress. Who am I now? What have I lost? What do I still have?

So, what to do? Stay there? How do we get out of that uncomfortable spot? Instead of focusing on our fears and failures, we centered on our Savior and his sacrifice. As I reminded him of God’s great love which never changes towards us he was able to find peace and calm.

We talked of the instructions of Jesus to a church in the book of Revelation, which gives us two things to do in the midst of trials and tribulations—let go of fear, and hang on to faithfulness. In doing that we focus our thoughts where they ought to be, to a place that helps us weather these storms.

As I often do, I sang him an old song. In fact, this one was from over fifty years ago, entitled “Over the Sunset Mountains.” That song talks about someday softly going to the arms of Jesus, the one who loves us so much. That will be a time when the trials and troubles will be over, the confusion and concern will pass, and the wonderful presence of Jesus will be there forever.

This is the hope, the thing that gets us through the hard days. These days will pass because they are temporary. Good thing. We have placed our hope and dreams in this savior, and someday soon we will see this come to pass.

Now that his focus was again in the right place, his face showed the calm in his heart. His words of gratitude were quick to come. His relief was palpable. Our prayer together was warm and real. What had I given to this man during this visit? Well, I had not given him faith. He already had that.

Later I thought of an old hymn from my childhood that seemed appropriate. It asks the question, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?” It’s a good question. But the question is, will it? That’s not just a theoretical concern.

Well, in this case I didn’t have to throw him an anchor. I just helped him tighten up the line on the one he had been attached to for so many years so that he could quit bouncing around so much in the waves! And as that took place he was able to find peace, the kind that “passes understanding.”

Get some rest, my friend.  Jesus won’t ever let you go!

******

Across our nation, over forty CBAmerica chaplains serve in healthcare chaplaincy (hospital and hospice). They are a comforting presence and reminder of God’s loving care for the injured, sick and dying, and their loved ones.  For more stories of effective ministry in this and other chaplain specialties, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.  For detailed information on educational, training, and clinical requirements for endorsement as a chaplain, email Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

Sabbatical: An Army Chaplain Reflects on the Benefits of Study and Rest

By Chaplain Daniel Werho, US Army, Fort Bragg, NC

Prologue: “C4,” beyond the name of a popular plastic explosive, it also stands for the Army “Chaplain Captain Career Course.” It is designed as a respite following a new chaplain’s initial operational ministry at the battalion level; often including one or more deployments and OCONUS (Outside the Continental United States) assignments. More importantly, it’s a time of study, reflection, and preparation for more intense ministry at the next higher “brigade;” and includes training in the supervision of two to five subordinate battalion ministry teams. It’s the starting point of an increasing administration and supervisory role in a military chaplain’s ministry career.

Daniel reflects on this training:

“Sabbatical. The past six months (and especially the past quarter) have been a true blessing. After the initial busy-ness of the first half of career course was complete, the pace finally slowed to the point that we could take advantage of being off the duty rosters, preaching schedules, etc. It was truly refreshing keeping in mind that my wife, Susanna, was finally feeling better with the pregnancy. We were able to take a step back from ministry and reflect on where we are and where we are going. I was able to read several books on preaching, leadership, parenting, and ministry all while being able to attend different churches (instead of leading them for the first time in a while; it truly does give you a different perspective). Now my kitbag* is full of energy, passion, and ideas so I’m itching to get back in the saddle with my new unit. I was finally able to meet and address my new BN this past Thursday (December ’17) and they seem like a great bunch that I’m looking forward to serving with.”

Please pray for:

  • Major Transitions.
  • New location, new unit, and a baby on the way at the end of March.
  • An anticipated stressful next 6 months and beyond.
  • Thankfully we are rested for it.

For more articles of the unique nature of chaplaincy ministry, go to www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.  To find out more about endorsement as a chaplain, contact Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

Notes:

*Kitbag is a military term for the repository of a Soldier’s specialty tools. Whereas an infantryman might carry night vision optical devices and weapons, a chaplain carries ministry resources, many also of a high-tech nature.