By Liz Andrasi Deere
On February 24, the U.S. Navy announced the selection of CBF endorsed Navy reserve chaplain Terry Eddinger for promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral (Lower Half). On October 1, he will become the Deputy Chief of Chaplains for Reserve Matters for the U.S. Navy, a three-year assignment and the highest position one can attain as a Navy Reserve chaplain. His promotion ceremony will be held on October 4 at First Baptist Church High Point, North Carolina.
During his 25-year chaplaincy career, Eddinger also served the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, as the Navy provides chaplaincy to both service branches. In his civilian duties, Eddinger is a Humanitarian Assistance Advisor to the Military at USAID with the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance. He also works part-time as a grief counselor with the Office of Military Commissions (OMC) Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP). When he assumes his new role as Deputy Chief of Chaplains in October, he will continue to serve in these civilian capacities.
Eddinger was drawn to chaplaincy while at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity in 1991. When he graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1995 with his PhD in Old Testament studies, he decided to pursue a Navy reserve chaplaincy position. As he completed his final degree, he found himself mired in the tumult of the fundamentalist takeover. So, in 2000, when CBF began endorsing chaplains, Eddinger moved his endorsement from the SBC. He is the first CBF chaplain to rise through the ranks and be promoted to flag officer in the 29-year history of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
For 19 years he served as an Old Testament professor at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity, no longer in existence, and as a reserve chaplain. In 1999 and 2000 he had the opportunity to serve for 16 months on the USS John F. Kennedy, which included a six-month deployment in the Persian Gulf. He agreed to this deployment because prior to 9/11, it seemed unlikely that he would have another chance to serve active duty. More opportunities arose after 9/11 and over the course of his service, Eddinger has transitioned from reserve to active duty five times.
While deployed on active duty, chaplains are charged with supporting the commanding officer’s mission which often that means offering opportunities for service members to stay busy in their downtime.
Eddinger described his approach to this pursuit as “staying relevant.” He explained, “I’ve always tried to be creative…doing things that would be a little different, that maybe wouldn’t attract what we would call the ‘church crowd’ but maybe that would attract just the normal people who want to do something nice. That also gives them face time with me so that when they do have issues, they know who their chaplain is and that they could come and talk.”
Eddinger has organized beach cleanups in areas usually inaccessible to service people for security reasons, trips to scuba dive (Eddinger is certified), and efforts to care for and maintain monuments at Guantanamo Bay. He also organized service people, at the request of his commanding officer, to work with their communities back home to collect items like toys and school supplies to distribute to Iraqi children, a program that has collected 12,500 items and which continued after Eddinger finished his tour.
In the tumult of today’s world, as Eddinger prepares to enter his new role in October, he will emphasize the necessity of mass casualty preparedness, disaster assistance, and providing operational support to the Navy. He plans to encourage his chaplains to stay relevant, too.
Eddinger explained, “As a chaplain, a lot of it is what you make of it. If you want to sit in your office, you can do that; but you’re going to have a very limited experience. You’ve got to get out and be creative and look for opportunities—and in some cases, make opportunities—to do your ministry.” Part of the preparedness of a chaplain is learning when and how to engage service members who are heading into traumatic events, being in the midst of them, and emerging on the other side.
“I want our people to be ready to respond with religious ministry whenever called upon, and to just be prepared—mentally, spiritually and physically,” Eddinger said.