Their Land To Serve, They Law To Fulfill
By Kristin Schwabauer
"Chaplains have a critical role in filling out the diversity of ministry gifts in the Body of Christ. To support individuals and their loved ones...requires unusual compassion, pathos and shalom or 'togetherness.'"
--Marvin Wilson, professor of biblical and theological studies
Whether on the combat field, in a police car, behind prison bars, on a hospital bed or out on the streets, chaplaincy "takes God into the world of our troops." Chaplaincy is not defined by doctrine, creed or a particular body of believers. It is ministry in constant motion; it is personal sacrifice and giving. It is a high calling, and the people who receive that call take the commitment seriously. Here are a few examples of Gordon alumni serving as chaplains and making a difference.
Police Chaplains--Bringing Hope into Hopeless Situations
Heather Blackstone '98 was pastor of a church in Glendale, California. One day a train collided with a car, killing 11 people and seriously injuring many others. Heather responded to the scene, since her church was only a few blocks from the Police Department, and was placed in a room with family members who were waiting to hear if their relatives had been killed. "As a chaplain I was supposed to offer hope in a hopeless situation; support when even I was crumbling; and crowd control in a place where people were being told they would never see a loved one again." After providing counseling and funeral services, she was asked by the Glendale Police Department to be their chaplain. Honored and humbled, Heather accepted the offer.
While Heather made a huge impact in this particular time of crisis, she remains humble in her approach, listening and letting the Holy Spirit guide her in how to comfort grief-ridden people. "I think every ministry needs the person to be completely hollowed out so God can work. In my first experience as a chaplain, I was drained and clueless as to how to handle the situation, and yet somehow I was able to get through it while God moved in me. I really felt that at some point God took over and dragged me through. Even though most situations aren't that extreme, it reminded me of God's presence and that God is always that active; I need to step aside."
Hospital Chaplains--Christ's Love for the Hurting
Although semiretired, the Reverend William Keep '78 continues to serve the sick and helpless as a hospital chaplain in Kentucky. "Chaplaincy came from a strong desire to serve--not to lead, as in the pastorate, but to make Christ and His redemptive love known to those who hurt." His hospital chaplaincy career began at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois, primarily serving in the psychiatric unit. He conducted worship services for patients and staff, using music extensively. More often than not Bill was able to build bridges between patients and the local church. He greatly enjoyed spending significant time with troubled and hospitalized kids.
Bill has found it crucial to steep himself in God's Word and soak himself in prayer as he continues to serve--especially the poor, weak, sick and lonely. "Pray--before, during and after ministry opportunities. Allow the Holy Spirit to sensitize your heart to the situation; then lovingly and tenderly reach in. Apply God's Word appropriately and let Jesus do His healing work without getting in the way. Always, always follow through."
Prison Chaplains--Working to Reduce Recidivism
Joe Caron '68B is coordinating chaplain in the New York State Department of Correctional Services. He has been a chaplain for more than 25 years, and previously served as chaplain in an acute care urban hospital and pastoral director in a residential drug rehabilitation center.
As a prison chaplain focusing on ministering to men, he faces the challenge of "how to encourage men to find refuge and resource in Christ Jesus that will shape their lives so they do not return to familiar lives of crime and addiction, and return to prison." He tries to connect prisoners with a local body of believers, and hopes that by connecting prisoners to a church family while they are incarcerated, these men will plug into their local churches when they are released. "Family," says Joe, "takes a real punishment because of incarceration. Hope for a change in the future is often difficult to identify because there is so much more to getting out of prison than release."
But often what happens is that Joe loses all contact with ex-prisoners and cannot continue to act as a spiritual mentor after their release. He can only pray and make himself available to the men who remain incarcerated.
Military Chaplains--Standing Alongside Soldiers
All branches of the military benefit from military chaplains serving as spiritual leaders among soldiers and their families. They are expected to keep up the morale of the soldiers no matter what the circumstance; travel and live all over the world; stand alongside soldiers in battle; disciple, mentor, teach and preach. "A chaplain enjoys all the privileges of a civilian pastor--preaching, teaching, counseling, visitation, community leadership--but has the unique privilege of ministering globally, even in a combat environment," says Air Force chaplain Bruce Arnold '75.
Dan Moen '04, Air Force chaplain candidate, first served as a chaplain's assistant in the Army before going through training to become an Air Force chaplain; his supervising chaplain at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was Bruce Arnold. "As a former chaplain assistant in the Army, I saw firsthand the tremendous impact solid evangelical chaplains made in the lives of soldiers and their family members. Soldiers were saved, baptized, renewed their faith and committed themselves to being better Christ-followers. I hope to return to full-time active duty to be part of this unique and important ministry."
Like Dan, Nicole Palmeira '03 is an Air Force chaplain candidate. Candidates simultaneously attend seminary and participate in an internship program to test a calling into military chaplaincy. Nicole lives by Psalm 61: "Whether I am attending a seminary class, in uniform, or sitting at my Emmanuel Gospel Center desk as I am right now, my prayer is that God will enable me to 'proclaim good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted.' It is from this passage that Jesus quoted and began his ministry, and it sums up so well the work of the church."
Active duty chaplains like Bruce Arnold are always at the frontline of a soldier's life--whether offering spiritual counsel, performing marriages, visiting wounded soldiers, leading worship or coming alongside other men on the battlefield. Since 1984 Bruce has served on active duty in Washington, D.C., Washington state, Germany, New Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Panama, California, Ohio and England.
"Contrary to popular belief, the military does not censor the gospel," says Bruce. "But like the Apostle Paul, a wise chaplain becomes 'all things to all people,' respecting the unique military environment in order to minister most effectively." All chaplains experience what Bruce is talking about--in any field, in any building, in any place.
Kristin Schwabauer, communications and writing associate at Gordon, was practically born into the chaplaincy, moving around the world her entire life, proudly watching her dad serve military personnel in multiple capacities as a Navy chaplain.