What is Different About Military Chaplain Ministry?

“Father, will you pray for me?” she asked.  “Of course, what is troubling you?” I replied.  “I need to improve my rifle marksmanship,” is her answer.

People frequently ask what it is like to be an Army chaplain.  The interchange above is just one example.  I hear requests from soldiers concerning their marksmanship frequently.  While serving a civilian congregation I heard the typical requests with which we are each familiar – illness, injury, jobs, etc.  Never though, did I have anyone ask for prayers to improve their shooting (not even during deer season).

There are many differences and typically, the obvious ones are cited when trying to explain what makes the chaplaincy different.  Your “parishioners” do not attend worship in your church, they are the people you work with everyday.  You can make unlimited visits to a “parishioner’s” work because it is your work also.  You train with them in the rain, snow, mud, heat, sand, and any other conditions that come along.  You have taken a sacred obligation to go forward with your “parishioners” into combat zones placing yourself at risk to ensure they can hear a word from God in their times of need.  You carry no weapon, instead trusting God to be your shield and defender.  All of these are true but the biggest difference, at least if you ask me, is much more fundamental than that.  The “parishioners” themselves are different.

Almost universally young, they face many questions, which older people have either answered through experience or decided not to answer.  In the time of their youth when corporate America would not trust them with an assistant manager position at a mini-mart, America – us, as a nation – trusts them to carefully manage deadly aggression in order to return peace to nations in turmoil.  Once in combat, at eighteen to twenty years-of-age most have endured more memorial ceremonies for friends who have died than the average American will attend before their “golden” years.  For an income that cannot be more than one third that of a civilian police officer, they have volunteered to police the world.  They keep people they do not know, and who do not know them, safe from harm.  When “kids” their own age are teaching one another how to do the latest stunts on skates and boards, they offer up their arms to one another.  They are practicing the starting of an I.V., ensuring they can each perform this life saving skill.  Because of the nature of the task that lies before them, these are the ones who ask a prayer request for improved rifle marksmanship.  It is not in any desire to harm another; rather, it is so that they can fulfill the obligation to keep others safe from harm.  These are the finest youth America has to offer.  These are the “parishioners” God has called the military chaplain to shepherd.  May God bless them, each and every one.

CH (CPT) Steven G Rindahl