A Day in the Life of a US Navy Chaplain
Pastor Drew - July 31, 2022
“Hey CHAPS, I have a question for you.”
I am three months into my ministry as a US Navy Chaplain(or “CHAPS” as most sailors call me.) I love whenever a sailor says they have a question. Each time is an opportunity to listen, care for them, and sometimes share the Gospel of Jesus. This time the question was, “What’s God think about tattoos?” I could literally feel the sailors around me lean closer as we stood together in our ship’s small, medical room. Most of them had—you guessed it—LOTS of tattoos!
This is what one version of a modern-day mission field looks like. A crowded room full of sweaty, tired, mostly 20-something year old sailors. To enter the US Military at any age is like entering a foreign country. The Navy has its own customs, traditions, rituals, and language. My first day aboard the ship began with a meeting called the Executive Officer call (The Executive Officer or “XO” is second in command of the ship). I understood about 5% of what was said in that meeting. That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.
It is a good thing I love to learn. There is SO much to learn. Thankfully, there are many sailors willing to teach you. You just need to be humble and ask for help! Another good thing is my days are full of variety. As a CHAPS, I get to roam the entire ship. I may start my day by going to a training led by the medical team. Then I’ll attend an exercise that involves lowering a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) into the water. Afterwards, I may spend 1-2 hours counseling sailors who are having marital difficulty or struggling with anxiety. Then I will prepare for a Sunday worship service.
I do all of this while our ship—the USS PHILIPPINE SEA—is undergoing maintenance. Maintenance is a stressful time for a Navy ship. The days are very long. Our sailors paint, fix broken parts, check equipment, stand watch, and then fix more broken parts. It is a grind. The pace takes a toll on even the toughest sailors. Whether they are religious or not, many of them come to me for a listening ear and a caring word. Our ship will eventually go to sea and believe it or not, doing so will be easier for many sailors than the long days right now.
I am thankful I spent 12 years as a pastor before I became a chaplain. God used those years to shape me. I learned how to better rely on His power. “Hope,” Thomas Keating once said, “is the mercy and power of God.” Each day my hope rests not on what I can do, but on what God can do. And what can God do? Everything. God provides us with the right words when we don’t know what to say. God sustains us with strength. God opens doors to share His love. I am a witness of these things.
This summer at Christ Lutheran’s VBS, the children and youth made LOTS of “Thank You for Your Service” cards for my crew. They also took up a special offering. I will use the offering to buy non-perishable items(i.e., snacks) for our sailors. They will be SO grateful! You all make a difference! This will open the door to share God’s love. Thank you!
To the sailor who asked me about tattoos, how did I respond? The short answer is, with the gospel. “Whether you get a tattoo or not,” I said, “doesn’t change how God loves you. What matters is that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus.”
“Huh. We like that CHAPS.” The sailors said. To which I replied, “Good. And oh, by the way. We have a worship service this Sunday at 1745 (5:45 PM). Why don’t you come?”
Thank you for prayerfully supporting Megan, our boys, and me, as we serve Jesus. The campus of “Christ Navy” is going great!