Each year the COMISS Network promotes Spiritual Care Week. It is an occasion to recognize the different disciplines who offer spiritual care to persons. The theme for 2018 is Hospitality: Cultivating Time. Throughout this week you will hear from CBF endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors as they focus on this theme. Below is Part 2. Read Part 1 here.
By Nathan Solomon
One of the hallmarks of Naval chaplaincy is “deckplate ministry” or ministry by walking around.
Navy Chaplains spend a large amount of their time being “pro-actively hospitable” in the commands they serve. It’s a wide-open, anything can happen ministry. When Sailors and Marines come to a chapel or a place of worship out in town, the hospitality they experience and the trust they develop occurs because they made the first move. Deckplate ministry is the reverse.
That’s why Navy chaplains can be found helping mechanics rebuild a jet engine, or painting the side of a ship, resetting the treads on a tank, or serving food in the galley more often than in their offices or chapels. As far as I am aware, this sort of pro-active hospitality is unique to military chaplaincy, at least in terms of its centrality to the ministry. We join our people where they find themselves in daily military life.
That takes the onus off the Sailor to act a certain way or to present a certain front. It gives the chaplain the opportunity to learn what daily life is like for her people.
When the chaplain participates in some of the drudgery of military life, a bond is established. The chaplain transitions from being the command’s chaplain, to “our chaplain.” The connection is deepened through shared risk and hardship.
The bonds I made with my Marines in the outposts and poppy fields of Marjah, Afghanistan are still strong. Eight years later, I am still their chaplain, sometimes the only one they turn to when the weight of history bears down on them. It’s hard to describe this bond, a radical acceptance in which they remain the semi-agnostic, foul-mouthed Marines they’ve always been and I remain their chaplain. I love them and am bonded to them for life, and that’s a good thing.
This sort of in-between ministry in which the chaplain assumes all of the awkwardness of being out-of-place and often out-of-time is uncomfortable. I’m a weird mixture of east-Tennessee CBF clergy and Naval officer. I am in this world but definitely not of it. I stand in a gap where my civilian clergy colleagues cannot go.
It’s not an easy and is frequently exhausting, dirty, and uncomfortable (spiritually, socially, and physically), but I have been blessed a thousand times over through it. From watching the sunset from the bridge wing of a destroyer in the middle of the Pacific, to laughing it up with tired Marines resting against a berm in Afghanistan, to watching Sailors I’ve come to love and care for make slow, halting, but bold steps in defining their life of faith…I would not trade it for the world.
Nathan Solomon is a CBF endorsed Navy Chaplain and a member of Central Baptist Church Bearden, in Knoxville, Tenn.