As I shared on Sunday, I will be with you, the Unitarian Church of Evanston, another few months before accepting an offer from the Air Force to join their active-duty Chaplain Corps. Before I say more about this, I want to say that it hasn’t just been an honor to serve this congregation, but an overall joy. The work we have done together for justice has been an inspiration, the work we have done spiritually has been grounding, and the work we have done institutionally preparation for your future. I am proud of our many shared accomplishments, a true testament to shared ministry. I expected to be here for a good decade, which historically has been the average length of your ministerial tenures, before moving to a next call. This offer from the Air Force, however, was a one-time deal, due to my age, so the past few months have been agonizing–there is no other way to say it. The decision has been to continue serving the only congregation I feel I really want to serve, or jump into a call that has been in my mind’s eye since I entered seminary.
Two questions guided the final decision: What did Cindy want to do? What decision would we be able to live with ten years down the road? On the first question, mine and Cindy’s 30 years together have been characterized as one adventure after another. She is looking forward to the next, unconventional, unknown thing we will do together. On the second, I don’t know if I could live with a decision not to do the ministry I hear God calling me to do in the world. It’s the reason I came to UCE: I heard a call to this place, at that time, to do the work we have done.
I’ve been asked about the kind of work I’ll be doing, and where we’ll be next year. On the latter, I have no idea but should soon. All I know it is could be anywhere. On the first question, the life of an Air Force chaplain has at least three primary elements. First, I’ll be assigned to a base chapel and a team of chaplains. Bases are small cities, often with 10,000-30,000 people living on them, including families. Base chapels serve a wide variety of faith traditions, so walking into the chapel on the weekend you’ll find many types of services being offered.
Second, I’ll be assigned to a unit to provide pastoral counseling and classes to support family life. Third, I will work with commanders to provide ethical guidance, when invited. A chaplain’s primary responsibility may be to uphold the free exercise of religion within the structured culture of military life–to make sure that everyone is able to worship, pray, and follow a spiritual path guided by their life and experience.
Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak encourages all of us to listen to our lives in a way that from the whole of them (our dreams unfiltered by ego or doubt, the tugs and pulls external and internal, and still small whispers of intuition the origins of which we cannot fathom) emerges the path forward. In the Tao, it might be called “way.” Some modern psychologists have called it “flow.” Whatever you call it, listen to your life. It is calling to you. It wants you to know its possibilities. Your life wants you to live!
I am forever grateful for the time we have had together.