Note: The following is an article written for the Navy League of Chattanooga.
Some of you know me as the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Being a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a tremendous honor and being pastor of this great congregation in our beautiful city is a unearned blessing. Some of you know that I also serve as a Chaplain (Major) in the US Army Reserves. And that is a great ministry and humbling experience that gives to me far more than I ever give to it. But I want to tell you about another great honor: of being in the Navy League of Chattanooga and being your Navy League chaplain. And I will tell you why.
First of all, I was once a young, orphaned teenager from a poverty stricken area of Southeastern Louisiana, and needing to find out how I would get an education. I took a test to try to qualify for the Navy Security Group to be a “spy!” What I really wanted was an education. And the United States Navy sent me to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. I got my first two years worth of collegiate education there. I went on to be a Top Secret linguist in the Navy. After the Navy I served for sixteen years in the chemical industry, becoming a manager in Kansas City. Later, when God called me to preach the Gospel of Christ, I went off to seminary, earning a Masters degree, then after that, a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Wales. I tell you this not to flash my educational credentials in front of you who have equal or more. But I tell you this to let you know: that everything good that came to me in my career and in my education started with the Navy. And so I feel a sense of gratitude to the Navy.
Secondly, my father, Ellis Milton, who died when I was only six years of age, was a Merchant Marine ship’s captain who commanded a troop transport during World War Two. I can’t remember a great deal of my father, but I can never forget the sight of him in his dress uniform. I grew up, every day, seeing the photograph that my wife now displays in our home, a picture of my dad when he was a young Naval officer. His brother, my uncle, was also in the Navy. He was killed during World War Two. Another man later came into my life and was a father figure to me. His name was Harry Faris from Kansas. He was a retired Captain in the Naval Reserve as well as a retired federal attorney. He was also an elder in the church I planted in Overland Park, Kansas. He taught me so much. I looked up to him in so many ways. He used to tell me of how the Navy gave him so many opportunities he enjoyed in life. So as a result of Naval service among the men that counted so much in my life, and their love for the sea services, my life has been enriched. I feel like I want to be associated with other men, and women, who also have served in the sea services and who carry of the great tradition of honor. And I got to tell you: when I left a business career to go to seminary and become an ordained minister, I wanted to serve as a Chaplain in the Naval Reserves. At the time they didn’t need any Presbyterians so that is how I ended up in the Army Reserves! But because of what the Navy did for me as a young man, and what the Navy and Merchant Marine meant to my family, I count it a privilege to be your chaplain.
What is you story? I hope I get to hear it from you sometime. Remember: no matter your denominational affiliation, I hope you know that I am always here if you need me. After all, I think we have something in common.