Eurasia Missionaries Join LCMS Chaplains for the Annual Lutheran Chaplains Professional Development Training Seminar: Part One
–By Elizabeth Ahlman
Part One: Challenges in Military and Missionary Life
Please note that any remarks made by the chaplains in this article are entirely their own. They do not necessarily represent the official position of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense, but reflect their own beliefs and ministry as military chaplains of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod (LCMS).
From September 31–October 4, 2013, several Eurasia region missionaries joined LCMS chaplains for a preaching conference in Garmisch, Germany. By invitation of the chaplains, the missionaries were able to join them at a U.S. Army hotel and base for the conference. The conference is a yearly event called the Lutheran Chaplain Professional Development Training Seminar and is sponsored by the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces. For the past four years, the conference has invited missionaries from the Eurasia region, as well. The topics each year are different. Past topics have included Communion Practices, the Book of Isaiah, and more.
Understanding the Life of a Military Chaplain
Military chaplains serve the branch of the military in which they are placed, giving counseling and encouragement, leading Divine Service, and more. As Chaplain (Colonel) Jonathan E. Shaw, the Professor of Ethics for the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA, explains, the idea of chaplains in military service might at first present a conundrum:
The first thing to remember is that chaplains are paid by the federal government to be pastors or clergy to people in the military. And that is inherently problematic because the first amendment to the Constitution says that we’re going to make sure that everyone is free to exercise his or her own religion, but we’re not going to establish a religion. So how can it be that you can actually have clergy being paid by the federal government to be pastors to people in uniform? The mechanism for doing this, and the way it’s been established for years and years, is that you take civilian clergy and they are trained outside the Department of Defense and ordained and endorsed to come inside the Department of Defense to represent that faith from the outside and bring in those religious ministrations – that preaching, that teaching, that pastoral care and counseling – from the theological perspective which exists outside the Department of Defense. So we have a myriad of chaplains from different religions all of whom work together so that they provide religious support for the soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines according to the faith of those service members and their families.
By providing chaplains who are endorsed by religious institutions outside of the government, the military allows soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines to freely practice their religions despite the fact that they serve the government and they often serve in foreign countries.
Chaplain (Captain) Brandt C. Klawitter, with the 52nd Signal Battalion stationed in Stuttgart, Germany, further explained that for the LCMS, currently Chaplain Mark Schreiber with the International Center is the endorsing agent. Once a Chaplain is endorsed and enters the military, his day-to-day life can be quite varied depending upon which branch he serves. Each branch of the military organizes their religious services differently. Chaplain Klawitter offered a snapshot of his week and the challenges it offers.
I am a Battalion Chaplain in the Army. It’s a mixture of soldiers and civilians that I serve during the week for my unit. In that respect, I’m there, and chaplains in general, because of Title X and First Amendment reasons to ensure that every person serving in uniform or as a civilian with the Department of Defense, does not give up their freedom of religion, freedom of religious expression, just because they’re serving in the government. So we’re there for that and we do that by what’s called “performing or providing.” I’m Lutheran. I “perform” or do Lutheran things, but if somebody has a need that I can’t meet as a Lutheran Chaplain, I can refer them to the Chaplain who can help them. That’s “provide.” So we’re there as a resource, but we also serve in other ways: things such as moral decision making, morale, counseling, marriage/family issues. Just to be somebody to talk to. As a chaplain I’m the one person a soldier probably knows is completely confidential. They can talk with me. It stays with me. It’s not going to go anywhere. I’m a safe person, whatever the request. So no two days are alike. Those are some of the things I do during the week in addition to Physical Training (PT) with the soldiers, going around and just seeing how they’re doing in the work place, Bible studies, and other faith-related events. In my free time, on Wednesday evenings, I have Confirmation class. Often I get to Saturday, I’ve done my main job for the week, and now it’s the weekend and Sunday’s coming and there’s going to be chapel service. This isn’t for my unit, it’s for the garrison, the general military population in the area, and I’m going to have a Lutheran service then. It’s not exactly being a bi-vocational pastor, but maybe similar. There are two entities that I’m serving in any given week.
Chaplain Klawitter noted that chaplains often work 60–70 hours per week or more, which is not uncommon for any pastoral ministry.
Challenges in Overseas Service for Chaplains and Missionaries
Additionally, serving in the military offers unique challenges. The missionaries in the Eurasia region share some of these challenges, which is one reason why it is so helpful to share in this conference together. A major theme that came out of the interviews was the idea of the isolation of serving overseas either as a chaplain or as a missionary. There is no circuit, and there are often no other Lutheran pastors nearby from the Missouri Synod with whom a chaplain or missionary can talk face-to-face or meet in person. One of the major benefits of these conferences is the opportunity to touch base in person with fellow pastors who are of the same confession, and who are dealing with many of the same challenges. Rev. Robert Flohrs, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Frankfurt, says that with being in Europe,
you don’t have the opportunities face-to-face to go do this. You can’t just jump in the car or the plane and go for two hours and you’re at St. Louis or Fort Wayne or somewhere. So for us overseas we really cherish these times for Continuing Ed, and I hope we continue to do it this way, that the conference continues this kind of theme of challenging Continuing Ed, things that help you in your ministry. I mean you have a mix of chaplains and missionaries, pastors, you have teachers, you have everything here. But we all still need to just keep learning.
Similarly, Chaplain Klawitter noted that Chaplains really do not have anyone in whom they can confide. He said, “as a chaplain, like many pastors, who do you talk to? You’re the guy who is supposed to have the answers to these things, and here, being amongst peers in a way that you really aren’t at any other time during the year, it’s refreshing to have your once a year pastor’s conference or chaplain’s conference, if you will.” In the U.S., circuit meetings are more frequent, as well as other groups that meet together to study the lessons for the upcoming Sunday, discuss preaching and teaching themes, and study the languages. For the Chaplains, this conference is often the one time a year that they are able to meet together with their fellow LCMS Chaplains. Chaplain Shaw notes that this opportunity to meet together for further study is extremely important because in a conference like this one
you’re being made stronger in the faith and that normative foundation for how you’re going to serve as a pastor to these people. The Department of Defense cannot train me to better divide Law and Gospel or take an Incarnational approach to theology. I mean, they have Jews and Muslims and Protestants and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and also confessional Lutherans as clergy. These kinds of LCMS forums are very important to continue our own theological moorings, to gain a greater sense of the fellowship of the faith among the brethren, as part of continuing certification, so that you’re strong in that faith which you’ve been sent into the Department of Defense to minister.
Besides the ability to make personal contact with fellow chaplains and missionaries, these conferences have proved beneficial to the specific challenges that chaplains face. For instance, last year’s conference was on Closed Communion. Chaplain Klawitter noted that this topic was helpful because it spoke specifically to situations they encounter as chaplains. With their work in the units and battalions, chaplains see many different soldiers who may have differing beliefs. Discussing Closed Communion, said Chaplain Klawitter, and how Lutheran Chaplains interface in a very pluralistic and often unionistic culture was
exceedingly practical. It is exceedingly important for LCMS chaplains to talk about these things, to try to have a combined front so that we all are on the same page as much as possible in our practice so that we’re not undercutting each other or doing different things, having entirely different policies.
This is just one way in which the conferences have not only offered beneficial continuing education, but have also helped to address those unique challenges that come with being a military chaplain or a missionary. All of the topics, said participants, have been helpful and beneficial in some way. This year’s topic on preaching was especially important. You can read about the specific topic from this year in Part 2: Why a Conference on Preaching.
- You can read Part Two here.
- Pray for our Chaplains and missionaries as they serve in foreign lands and at home.