Main Menu

Military seeks ‘a few good’ pastors

Military seeks ‘a few good’ pastors

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Military seeks ‘a few good’ pastors

March 28, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0821}

NOTE: See a related commentary by the Rev. Terri Jones, a military chaplain, at and comments from military chaplains about their experiences at

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

The Rev. Jim Fogle-Miller, a Florida state chaplain for the National Guard, poses at the airport in Konduz, northern Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jim Fogle-Miller. Photo #08-0792. Web photo only.
The Rev. Jim Fogle-Miller follows two distinct passions in his service as an Army National Guard chaplain.
“To me, being a military chaplain is a calling within a calling,” he said.

Those callings include ordained ministry as a United Methodist clergyperson and service within the military.
“I think many pastors have experienced what it’s like to be with families at moments of crisis and have found those to be powerful experiences and powerful times,” Fogle-Miller said. “Serving as a military chaplain, I think you have an opportunity to serve with people who are facing some difficult and dangerous times, and that is both very powerful and humbling.”

Finding people with this unique passion and calling, as well as the necessary qualifications, however, proves challenging to military recruiters, Fogle-Miller said.
“In terms of overall shortage in … the National Guard we are at 61 percent strength and short about 300 chaplains,” he said.
In Florida, where Fogle-Miller serves as state chaplain for the National Guard, about half of the available chaplain positions are open.
“We have 19 chaplain spots in the Army National Guard (in Florida), and nine of them are filled,” Fogle-Miller said. “And every day I am confronted by things that we cannot do because we are not full strength. I am, at the present, the only United Methodist who is a chaplain.”
Among the types of services Fogle-Miller says could be provided if more chaplains were available is a suicide prevention program for military personnel, as well as routine pastoral care for unit members and their families.

The wide spectrum of people chaplains serve makes it a powerful ministry, Fogle-Miller said.
“I think Army chaplaincy is incarnational … soldiers want to have a chaplain with them rather than simply around,” Fogle-Miller said. “For me, it’s not unlike God taking human form and having Jesus with us, rather than having God up there for us.”

What it takes, why it’s not happening

Fogle-Miller and his wife, Beth, both ordained elders in the Florida Conference, reside in DeLand. Fogle-Miller would like to see other United Methodist ministers step forward for this type of service.
“Historically, United Methodists have made very good chaplains because of the depth of the theological education that they bring and the ordination requirements,” Fogle-Miller said. “ … I would really want to emphasize that United Methodists have made outstanding chaplains, and to me there is a critical need for what United Methodist clergy can bring to the table right now.”

The Revs. Beth and Jim Fogle-Miller. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jim Fogle-Miller. Photo #08-0793.

The minimum requirements for chaplaincy include an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, a master’s degree involving theological education of at least 72 hours, chaplaincy endorsement by the candidate’s denomination, United States citizenship, age 47 or younger at the time of swearing in if the candidate has no prior service, and meeting the medical requirements of the military. Benefits include a $10,000 commissioning bonus and some educational loan repayment.
In additional to fulfilling the minimum requirements for chaplaincy, there are other challenges, including an investment of training time every year and possible separation from family members, Fogle-Miller said.
“If somebody were to come to me today, it would take at least six months for the process (to be completed), and it’s not uncommon to take even longer than that,” he said.
United Methodist clergy must earn a chaplaincy endorsement by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The Rev. Tom Carter serves as director of endorsement for the United Methodist Endorsing Agency in Nashville, Tenn.
“I spent 28 years on active duty as an Army chaplain and I found it to be a very rewarding and fulfilling ministry, serving with people and bringing them Christ where they work versus waiting for them to come to a church or ministry,” Carter said. “Chaplains have a place of honor and respect in the military.”
All branches of the military lack enough chaplains, but the Army is in greatest need, Carter said.

In the Army Reserves, of the 516 chaplaincy slots, about 100 are vacant; in the National Guard, about 250 of the 722 available slots are vacant; active duty Army is seeking to fill more than 200 spots; and the Navy and Air Force have openings as well, according to Carter.

“The Army is by far in need and Air Force and Navy are cutting spaces (for chaplains) to build ships and planes … ,” Carter said. “Whereas the Army is having to carry the major role in Bosnia, Gaza Strip, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The Rev. Tom Carter of the United Methodist Endorsing Agency of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry offers Holy Communion to a gathering of military chaplains in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert. Photo #08-0794.
Carter cites a change in American culture as a significant cause for the shortages.
“It’s almost a cultural shift,” he said. “(Currently) less than one half of one percent of the United States population is in uniform; whereas in World War II, everyone had someone connected. That’s a real shift in terms of our culture. The patriotic sense is not as great as it was once before.”
The availability of clergy young enough to serve as chaplains also poses a challenge.

“The problem with mainline Protestant churches is the number of older people coming into ministry by second career,” Carter said. “Because of that, there’s not the youthful base of clergy there once was, so the base is not as great. Mainline folks are always in demand in the military because of the sacramental authority to baptize infants.”
Carter said the United Methodist Endorsing Agency last year endorsed 22 United Methodists for chaplaincy — reserve, active duty and National Guard. Based on applications so far this year, Carter believes there will be similar numbers in 2008.
“When we endorse someone for the reserves or National Guard, they are as good as active duty because quite often they get called up,” Carter said.
The total number of active duty United Methodist chaplains is about 138, while 345 are endorsed and in uniform, Carter said.

In terms of having a job once they come back from active duty, Carter said annual conferences are usually accommodating when their pastors are called up for chaplaincy services. If a pastor will be gone for a lengthy period of time, his or her bishop will generally appoint someone new to the pastor’s church. Upon the chaplain’s return from service, the annual conference works with the pastor on returning to a pastorate, although religious organizations are not legally obligated to do so.
“There is a provision in federal law that if you are mobilized and deployed, you have to be rehired,” Carter said. “The spirit of that is followed in most cases in The United Methodist Church.”
The nature of the calling

Carter suggests those interested in pursuing chaplaincy should first discuss it with their families and then meet with their district superintendents, followed by pursuing the endorsement, as well as contacting a chaplain recruiter.
“If United Methodist clergy enter the military as chaplains, they really become a missionary extension of the annual conference,” Carter said. “Anyone who is appointed by the bishop to an extension ministry is an extension of the ministry of Jesus and of The United Methodist Church to the rest of the world.”
Carter also noted that for those wondering about the implications of war, chaplaincy offers a unique opportunity.
“ … By serving in the military, you are there for the service members and their families,” Carter said. “Most people in the military — including chaplains who are noncombatants — don’t like the idea of war; they are not seeking that as their place to be. And they are under a lot of stress right now because of deployment and the injuries that have come out of this war are different. Ninety-eight percent are coming out of their injuries surviving.”

An Italian soldier (center) “makes a long memory” — his broken English for taking a picture — with the Rev. Terri Jones (left) and her unit’s chaplain assistant. The two were waiting with a Catholic priest from Chicago to join another group at a convoy point in Kuwait in 2005 when a squad of Italian soldiers pulled up. Although the convoy was canceled due to security reasons, Jones said the trip was not wasted. “ … it is often in those ‘waiting moments’ when we stop and learn from each other that we are able to see the world differently,” she said. “That even in the middle of war new communities can be found and barriers lowered.” Photo courtesy of the Rev. Terri Jones. Photo #08-0795. Web photo only.

The Rev. Terri Jones, who lives in Sebastian, Fla., found her stereotypes about the military changed when she lived one year in Korea several years ago.
“ … I became friends with some soldiers, and I didn’t realize that I had all these stigmas about what the military was like, but being over there and experiencing that community, I realized what a strong family atmosphere that was,” Jones said.
After returning to the United States, Jones learned about the chaplain candidate program, which she pursued while in seminary. It took her six years to complete the program, including seminary and ordination requirements. Jones serves with the Army.
“I was only in (the military) as a commissioned chaplain for about nine months before I was deployed … ,” she  said. “It was early in the war … I worked at a place where everybody flies into Kuwait.”
Jones served as the hub chaplain for military coming in and out of the combat zone, with a clientele ranging between 1,000 to 3,000 soldiers per day. She was available to counsel them on demand. The soldiers talked about such subjects as combat stress and separation issues with their families. She also helped with ceremonies at the mortuary evacuation point.
“You’re always dealing with life and death situations,” Jones said. “Over there it’s the intensity of the counseling that is up a notch — you really only have maybe an hour.”
Jones said experiencing the presence of God in such a place was one of the most lingering effects of her service.
“Of myself, I really don’t have the skills and abilities, and over and over the words would come out and it was what they needed to hear,” Jones said. “I knew that that wasn’t me, and you knew that without God, you’d have nothing to offer. It was the feeling in the sense that to live with that kind of assurance is a powerful experience.”
Jones, who is working part time as a U.S. Army Reserves chaplain, believes chaplains are needed more than ever right now.
“You have so many flocks for chaplains … all these reservists are coming back from war and there are a lot more issues and people who need chaplains than there would be in peace time.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.