The author knows his career, a service to God and nation, was God’s call on his life to share the good news among those in uniform.
The call to service is upon us!
To paraphrase the apostle Paul’s empowering words (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11f) all of us have been equipped with gifts to serve God and love our neighbors. With our complete commitment of heart, mind, and soul, we have been prepared for a purpose-driven and proactive life that encourages qualities in our service to others. Our president, Barack Obama, encourages the nation to consider community service through USAService.org as one way citizens can personally contribute to helping relieve unemployment stress and our nation’s financial deficit. Let’s go!Chaplain Garvey (left) meets with an Iraqi family. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense.
Let’s fix America and help others. Our country and churches need strong Americans — folks proactive and engaged in purposeful work — to stand tall and be counted. There are many avenues to serve our nation: the church, Peace Corps, the Departments of State and Defense and USAID (Agency for International Development). The list goes on. Much of the work mentioned is the stuff America reads about it in the paper the next day. Much is not; and that is totally okay. Former President John Kennedy heralded: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And your church as well, of course.
It’s your call! If you are willing to serve and go where the work is, you and others will benefit and receive God’s blessing because you were there. Perhaps we need to examine our motivations. Many young people today want to start their lives above the station their parents achieved after a lifetime of work. Good luck! Unfortunately, when that doesn’t work, one can easily become stagnant and depressed. Seek to serve and you will be blessed.Service to Nation
My choice for service was the time-honored tradition of serving God and country through military chaplaincy — 34 years of federal service, my last years as a U.S. Air Force chaplain. I have truly loved this ministry to the young, positive, and upbeat military community.
But wow, where does the time go? I wasn’t always serving as a noncombative pastor to military personnel. In 1968 I began with the U.S. Marine Corps as a helicopter maintainer and soldier, serving in Vietnam. The Marines were the beginning of my career as I know it today. But I have never respected a body of people more. They are the most amazingly loyal and closest community I’ve known.
Marines are loyal to a fault; folks who stand up for each other no matter what. Most of my Marine Corps colleagues left the military and moved on to serve in the private sector. We Vietnam-era marines still get together every two years for a reunion, and it’s always interesting to see how well everyone has served and contributed to building a better world after 40 years of service.
My choice for service was the time-honored tradition of serving God and country through the military chaplaincy — 34 years of federal service, my last years as a U.S. Air Force chaplain.
Today’s military are a proactive community engaged in humanitarian relief, peacekeeping, and defending the interests of America and American allies. They are people who are personally engaged in the making of history, continually seeking necessary education, learning a job specialty, and very eager to make a difference. Most military personnel today are post 9/11 young adults who eagerly choose service after the attack on American soil. Others joined because they were unable to continue schooling because of a lack of funds. They sought purposeful service through the army, air force, navy, marines, or coast guard.
Following my ordination in the American Lutheran Church in 1982, I became an air force chaplain. I was called to serve and that’s what I came to do. Earlier, I had honorably served with the Marine Corps and lost dear friends in a war.
As a military chaplain, I served 11 ecumenical chapel communities in the last 27 years. Some of those who participated in these faith communities were part of the Lutheran church. My responsibilities included participating in weekly staff meetings, preaching, teaching, working with a parish council and a fund council, and writing policies involving our community life. Not too different from work in the average parish!
A variety of ministries abound on our bases. At Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico where I served, our chapel staff consisted of a Baptist, two Pentecostals, a Catholic priest, five airmen, two contractors, and a wealth of volunteers. Three Sunday services welcomed 440 worshipers.
We were there for the personnel and their families when the military retired the F-117 Stealth Fighter. Family lives were disrupted when they had to move to other bases for school and cross training into new and different technical job training. Also, we were there to welcome the F-22 Raptor, the unmanned Predator and Reaper aircraft, and personnel and families that needed to move to Holloman airbase.
Our work includes pastoral care with counseling, studies, groups, and unit visitations. We were involved with new chapel renovation and construction. We hosted the Tularosa Basin Clergy Day, which assisted and mentored pastors on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how to care for war fighters returning home and to their local parishes. We also hosted an all-community Women’s Day and a National Prayer Breakfast.Parents’ Sage Advice
I’m thankful for my parents’ sage advice, as both were self-educated and wise. I never ministered close to them but have been blessed many times over by how they mentored me. They taught me about reaching out and seeing God’s creation and beauty as found throughout the world. With meager beginnings themselves, they encouraged service and going where the needs are. The Marine Corps supplied the education benefits that helped me attend Concordia College (Moorhead), Luther Seminary, and ultimately become ordained as a Lutheran pastor in the Air Force Chaplain Corps.
My last trip to Iraq fostered an opportunity to work with the coalition in Kirkuk, witness the installation of a new Iraqi Catholic Bishop, and provide humanitarian relief in three villages. We heard of heinous family atrocities, abuse, and killing under the Hussein administration, horrific and tragic stories of folk persecuted. Coalition Forces in Kirkuk were selflessly working 12-hour days, six days a week. Together we collected $250,000 for donations every 60 days from parents, schools, churches, youth groups, and others from the United States for Iraqi villagers. Pallet-loads of school supplies went to village children in six elementary schools who desperately needed clothes—many of them physically disabled and all thankful for this relief. A “labor of love” team donated their day off to nation building. We built protective fences around two Muslim cemeteries torn up by the Republican Guard and restored a 1968 mosque.
This has been my calling. I have loved the selfless military community. They exemplify the purest form of devotion I’ve ever known. At the very heart of a servant is someone putting their precious self on the line for the preservation of the freedoms we take for granted most every day. Many of these service men and women are not steeped in riches and property, yet they serve together so that we all can share a piece of the American dream.Gary Garvey, an ELCA pastor, worked as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force for 34 years. He currently resides in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota.
This article appeared in the May / June 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners Online.