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Cross opens doors for military chaplains to minister

U.S. Navy Chaplain Travis Phillips is a United Methodist minister from Ohio serving at the Marine Corps Base in Okinawa, Japan. UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

Fourth in a series

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Oct. 28, 2008 | OKINAWA, Japan (UMNS)

Chaplains stand out in the military because of what they wear and what they don’t carry.

They wear crosses on their uniforms. They carry no weapon into battle.

"We don’t condone war. We don’t think that killing people is right," said the Rev. Travis Phillips, a United Methodist Navy chaplain serving at a U.S. Marine Corps base in Okinawa.

"It’s about caring for people who are asked to do things, like carry weapons and maybe even take someone’s life, which is a terrible burden," Phillips said.

"And remember, a lot of these guys are 17, 18, and 19 years old … maybe not equipped to live with the consequences of the decisions they make. We really provide mature, adult presence and counseling for them."

The Rev. Amy Sheffield is an Air Force Reserves chaplain stationed at Kadena
Air Force Base in Okinawa.

Phillips, a clergy member of the church’s East Ohio Annual (regional) Conference, is part of the faith team at Camp Smedley Butler that provides 22 chapel services on Sunday and five on Friday and Saturday. He draws his congregation from 20,000 Marines and their family members.

One challenge for his young parishioners serving in Okinawa is adjusting to military life in a foreign country. "If they are having a bad day, they can’t just hop in the pickup truck and drive to Grandma’s," Phillips said.

That makes his role all the more important.

Chaplain Amy Sheffield, a captain in the Air Force Reserves, is "passionate about going to work with people Monday through Friday who need to know about Christ." She is stationed at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa.

"I like to find people who may not darken the door of a church, who may be on the fringe of society, who don’t necessarily know the stories of Jesus, but who are searching," she said.

"I found that chaplaincy is a great way to meet people where they are."

"It is a joy to be a visible reminder of God’s presence
and love," says Air Force Chaplain Sam Rohr.

The Rev. Sam Rohr, an Air Force chaplain and a United Methodist, said the young people he encounters every day at Kadena are "some of the best that I’ve ever met." In a world that sometimes is dark and ugly, "it is a joy to be a visible reminder of God’s presence and love," he said.

For the Rev. Gregory McCremin, the best part of serving as a Navy chaplain is ship duty. "I love being assigned on a ship because there’s nothing more beautiful than having a captive audience," joked McCremin, a lieutenant commander based in Okinawa.

Being trapped on a ship offers opportunities to develop true relationships, he said. Meanwhile, wearing the cross as a chaplain means "you are a representative of Jesus Christ" and can bring reconciliation or healing to a tragic situation.

Sheffield said people "open up dramatically" because chaplains are entrusted with a significant responsibility.

"Just by wearing that cross, we are given such a huge gift … and that’s the greatest blessing," she said.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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