Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

The Torch May Pass From Me

I first want to thank everyone for the well wishes that have been sent our way over the last week or so. I also want to thank all of the colleagues and friends in ministry that have offered support and advice to Sandy and I as we have worked with and been integrating a rather significant change in our understanding of our future. That future is still fluid, but it has settled down somewhat.

There is a wonderful acronym in the military “BLUF” or “Bottom Line Up Front”. I’ve had that acronym directed a lot at me from officials in the Chaplain Corps the last few days. It means that you put the final line of the memo up at the top, rather than trying to set the stage for some bad news. You get the core message out of the way and then give the details.

So, Bottom Line Up Front: I may not be becoming an Army Chaplain, at least not anytime in the near future. In fact, it looks like I may have to resign from the Army altogether.

The irony of this situation is that I could become an Army Chaplain, a fully accessioned Army Chaplain, anytime I wanted to. The Army has offered to make me an Army Chaplain… but only in the Reserves, not the Active Duty. At every step along this path, we’ve been planning to serve soldiers and their families in the Active Duty Chaplaincy. Chaplains and others have encouraged us in this belief, citing my preparation for ministry, my prior service experience, and the fact that I am from a minority faith tradition in the military as reasons why so many have thought I would be picked up for Active Duty.

I have been assured by senior military chaplains that this decision has far less to do with my qualifications, and more to do with the fact that the current Active Duty Chaplain Corps is over-strength, and the Reserves is under-strength (by a lot). I have been encouraged (and even had my faith challenged) to accept the Reserve commission. Once I was chided by a Chaplain for not showing enough faith in my hesitance to accept the commission (I did not reply that what faith I have is in God, not in the U.S. Army). I’ve been told that if I accept the Reserve Commission I can just “suck it up” for a few years and then apply for Active Duty again.

However… I cannot feed my family, pay back student loans, or even make my rent on what a Reserve U.S. Army Chaplain makes. And, I have long known that having the possibility of being deployed would make it very difficult for a Unitarian Universalist Congregation to call me as their minister. Seeing the competitive nature of Board Certified Chaplaincy, I can also now see how difficult it would be for a civilian employer (say a hospice) to hire a Chaplain who could be deployed.

So, accepting the Reserve Commission would not give me the resources to take care of myself or my family, and it would make it very difficult to find a civilian job.

So, I’m more than a little stuck.

As the U.S. Army is transferring the Reserves from a Strategic Force (call up in case of emergency) to an Operational Force (regular deployments as part of the Active Duty Missions) the idea that the reserves means “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” is a myth, and one that the civilian world has woken up to. While it is hard enough on servicemembers, it is even worse on families. How our nation is currently mylan generic imitrex using / overusing / misusing our Reserve military forces is a Justice issue, one that is on almost no one’s radar.

It is on mine, because for this last week Sandy and I have been trying to put together some way to make it work… we’ve even talked about my going back to my college job of waiting tables to try and make it work. We’ve looked at our finances six ways to Sunday… I’ve contacted civilian chaplain employers, and I’ve even sent feelers (and more than feelers) out to a few congregations looking for part time ministry.

And we just cannot see a way to make it work… and accepting the responsibilities of a reserve military chaplain without knowing how to make it work for my family seems unethical, irresponsible, and immoral to me. This was where the conversation of “Just have faith” came into being. When I stated that such kind of faith was not necessarily my religious tradition, the individual who said it seemed shocked. Far more in liberal faith to realize that I am responsible for the decisions I make in my life and their ethical and moral ramifications.

Emotionally, this week has been a roller-coaster. This all happened for us amidst my graduating from Meadville Lombard with my Master’s of Divinity, and my receiving Preliminary Fellowship as a Unitarian Universalist Minister. The good thing about it happening during graduation weekend is that there was no shortage of ministerial colleagues and friends to listen and talk me through my shock, and help me begin my process of grieving. And the two events will be forever linked in my mind… my graduation and the possible end of my military career.

Now, if I have to resign my commission, it will be under honorable circumstances… and so I could re-apply for active duty anytime in the next 2.5 years (until I get too old). I’ll have one more try. In that time I might go serve a congregation, or I might do some clinical chaplaincy (and finish board certification). But who knows what happens once I begin those particular career paths. Beginning will make it harder to leave.

No matter what, I will seek ways to support and aid military families and returning veterans. It may just not be as I planned. Perhaps clinical chaplaincy will take me to the VA, or perhaps resigning my commission will allow me to speak to the many issues of Justice that I see happening within today’s military. Perhaps I might be able to support those UU’s who do make it into the military chaplaincy.

All I know is that, though the door is not closed, it appeared to me to be closing. My packet will be re-considered by the board for Active Duty in mid-June, so there is still another chance at Active Duty, but the standards of this board will be the same as the last one, so they are more than likely to reach the same decision.

This morning I went up to Great Lakes, and I saw how excited the recruits were to hear the message of Liberal Faith. “This is what I’ve been looking for my whole life!” one of them said excitedly after the service. That is something I’ve long known… how important our liberal faith is to the future of the military and to the lives of those young service members. Now I just have to realize that I may have carried the torch as far as I can, and have to pass it off to someone else.

Yours in faith,


15 Thoughts on “The Torch May Pass From Me

  1. Well, poop.

    Not sure what else to say, except to offer hugs, blessings, and lots of love to you and Sandy both.

  2. David-

    You and your family are in my prayers. I hope that you can find a path that is authentic to your calling and also possible for your family. You’re an amazing minister wherever you end up.

    in peace and with love,

  3. Mary Ellen Morgan on Sunday May 23, 2010 at 18:41 +0000 said:

    Oh David, I’m so sorry. I was there when you were re-commissioned and I know you had different plans to answer your call. I’m disappointed for you, but I know that your commitment is strong and that many active duty, their families and our veterans will be strengthened and comforted by your ministry. I’ll keep a good thought for you that it will all work out for the best.

  4. David, I think it would be perfect if you found a position working with vets and active personnel and their families. As you say, the VA might be one way, else, in a congregation in a largely military area. If it would help, I’d be happy to be used as a reference. I’ve still got that video recording of the service you did here, I don’t think I ever got a copy to you?

  5. David, I’m sure you’ve thought of everything and turned over every idea and rock– but just in case… is it possible to get anyone to intercede on your behalf? Our UUA President? A U.S. Senator or Conngressperson? Our Commander in Chief (who has a UU background and connection)? What you have to offer the military is desperately needed. For them to throw it away is an absolute crime.

  6. Jill Iverson on Monday May 24, 2010 at 5:36 +0000 said:

    Oh no – the Army will be losing a great chaplain who can help so many soldiers, this is sad. Can you go into another branch of service perhaps?

  7. David,
    I am so sorry to hear about this. Hard place. Hard choices. You are in my thoughts and prayers. I know that your calling is still calling and that you are still answering. Peace and comfort to you and your family.

  8. Mark Erickson on Monday May 24, 2010 at 10:16 +0000 said:

    Wow, that sucks. I can only wish you good luck will accompany your hard work, but we all know that isn’t how it happens sometimes. But Good Luck anyways!

    Something that came to mind to me is a non-profit private veterans organization. And look for grants that could allow you to create your own career. If you’re willing to live year to year until you have your final word on Active Duty, maybe the UUA or a collection of churches could provide funds. It is certainly a worthy cause to minister to veterans.

  9. David, Jason and I have been thinking of you often and wish you and Sandy all the best. It will be interesting to see what new doors open as this one the active duty chaplaincy door is closing. We send our wishes for great opportunity and strength of spirit.

  10. David,

    I don’t dispense advice, especially to someone who does not really need it. I think you know what you will have to do, even if that is not your first choice. It is, however, the right path for you.

    You will choose to follow your calling in a way that makes the most sense. You will exercise your God-given abilities to reason (a verb, of course), and you will grow with the experience. You have been called to service, and you will follow that call. You will have to be fair to your family in the process; otherwise, your ability to serve will be impaired.

    I don’t know the process for finding a UU placement, but you are uniquely qualified to help a lot of people. I would hope that recognition of this fact will prevail among those who end up making the decisions.

    I don’t really believe in luck either, so let me just say that I believe reason will ultimately prevail, but reality is a tough player to beat when the cards are all dealt.

    Think positive thoughts, and do the right thing!

  11. BLUF: Hang tough, brother 😉

    Best of luck with the June board. It sounds like your heart and head are both in the right place and, as bleak as it looks, that alone puts you well ahead of most others. Stay strong and make the right decisions for your family. The rest will fall into place.

    Take care,


  12. David,

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers, friend.

    Whatever path you choose, I know that you will find a way to share your powerful ministry. I have no doubt about that. And I agree that “having faith” is deeply and intimately connected to and rooted in our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, and our communities.

    blessings and love

  13. I’m sure it will all work out for you in the end David. Remember “when one door of happiness closes, another opens…” You’ve worked incredibly hard and I know that it will pay off for you.

  14. Peggy Boccard on Friday June 4, 2010 at 8:44 +0000 said:

    David, I just found out about this from Barbara S-L last night at choir. I’m so very sorry for you all and so very very angry with the Army. You are a treasure to any group working with you, and they’re idiots for not realizing it, so hang in there.


  15. Tammy Besser on Friday June 4, 2010 at 13:30 +0000 said:

    How are you holding up living with the “may” ?

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