Week 30: Fairchild AFB Chapel, 27 July 2008

My dad offered to take us to the base chapel for a service, figuring that it’s better to go now, before the program year gets underway at his church and he “becomes more involved” (which sounds like he plans to be involved), and we took him up on it.  What I find so deliriously wonderful about military installation chapels around the globe is how ecumenical they are . . . and in the 20 years since I’ve left regular chapel attendance, they’ve only become more ecumenical. (This morning’s bulletin listed the four Protestant chaplains: United Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Latter Day Saints, and Free Methodist).  I’ve never see LDS on the Protestant chaplain’s list, and the LDS chaplain attended the service this morning.  (Chaplains are apportioned to installations based on the population of the installation (who answer a questionnaire that includes religious denomination when they move there) . . . given the large percentage of our local population who are LDS, this isn’t surprising here in Spokane . . . just surprising to me).

Among the nearly 2,900 clergy on active duty are 41 Mormon chaplains for 17,513 Mormons in uniform, 22 rabbis for 4,038 Jews, 11 imams for 3,386 Muslims, six teachers for 636 Christian Scientists, and one Buddhist chaplain for 4,546 Buddhists.

The numbers are from a fascinating article on the tumultuous relationship between the Wiccans and the military, and the struggle of one Army Chaplain stationed in Iraq who wanted to convert. I had not really considered that chaplains might want to convert during their terms, but I guess there isn’t any reason a chaplain might do it any less frequently than any other person. (For that matter, given how many people feel they “lose their faith” during seminary, it would make more sense that they’d convert more often than the rest of us).
Anyway, Wicca and conversion aside, I’ve always maintained that the service on a military installation is the Ultimate Generic Protestant Service, and that it’s roughly the same, anywhere you attend on the globe. The Fairchild AFB Chapel did not disappoint. The sermon was even on one of the best-known and oft-quoted passages from the Bible: the 23rd Psalm. I should have liked to hear the sermon at the 1330 Gospel Service, though, as the Chaplain’s speaking style lent itself to the more interactive format of a gospel service.

At the beginning of the sermon, he mentioned that Randy Pausch just died. I just asked Michael how that tied into the rest of the sermon, but neither of us know. I’m not sure he ever tied that in. (Actually, I’m pretty sure he didn’t). My dad suspected the sermon, “An Overflowing Cup,” wasn’t original, but I haven’t found anything to back up that suspicion. I do rather think most military chaplains recycle their own sermons, as they move and have a whole new congregation every year or two (or they stay put and, over the same interval, end up with a whole new congregation in the same location).

We stuck around at the end to watch the “changeover” from Protestant service to Catholic.  (Up went the projection screen, they changed out the religious flag (from Methodist to Catholic? not sure), removed most of the worship team’s instruments, opened the curtain on the reredos to reveal a crucifix, Mary, eternal light, and an altar, and opened a side wall to make room for (the choir? not sure)).  This is apparently more entertaining to me than the rest of my family.

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