By Chaplain (COL) Brian ChepeyJuly 31, 2018
While serving as a Chaplain Recruiter years ago, my email signature block above my contact information read something like this: "How many local pastors do you know who can climb out of a HUMMWV, jump into a Blackhawk, and baptize Soldiers and Marines in the mountains of Kosovo and do it all in one day?" C'mon, it doesn't get much better than that! Helping Soldiers exercise their right to freely exercise their religion through the rite of baptism…via Helicopter! Hey, the Pilots and Crew Chiefs received high altitude training, the Unit Ministry Team worked with the S3 in the ORDERS process, the Battalion Commander provided religious accommodation for his Soldiers, and lives were forever changed by using Army systems to help facilitate religious support!
Now I am sure, the Continental Congress of 1775 did not have Army Aviation in mind as a resource means for ministry support when it authorized the commissioning of chaplains on July 29th of that year; however, the recognition of the value of religious leadership and the need for Divine Providence lived: in, by, and with our earliest Soldiers is clearly reflected in the formation of the Chaplain Corps, its birth.
As the 29th of July is just around the corner, my deputy, Chaplain (LTC) Everett Franklin, is quick to point out that "births" relate to living things; namely persons. So he would say, the 29th of July is the anniversary of our Corps, an annual recognition of a significant event. When I consider his input by looking at it from his perspective, I think it's a combination of both. With that in mind, in non-Army writing style, July 29, 2018 will mark the 243rd annibirthsary of our Chaplain Corps.
Indeed, today's Chaplains and Religious Affairs Specialists, are living persons, marked by a significant historical event, serving the great Soldiers, Family members and DA Civilians of our Army whose foundation dates back to July 29, 1775 when our nation's Continental Congress officially authorized chaplains to serve as officers.
These new officers were local clergy who believed God had called them to bring comfort, moral framework, and spiritual guidance in the midst of the horrors and tragedy of war. Aspects of chaplain ministry included: providing public worship; ministering to the wounded; officiating in burial services; performing marriages; and obeying the orders of superiors and Congress.1
Good moral conduct was not only expected of the chaplain, it was also expected of the Soldier as prescribed in the Articles of War established by the Continental Congress on June 30, 1775. A Soldier's opportunity to attend public worship was viewed by the Continental Congress as a relevant contribution to a Soldier's moral development.
Religious worship was of such importance in the shaping of moral conduct, the Continental Congress placed it second to Article I of the twelve Articles. Article II states, "It is earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend Divine Service…"2 Like today, the faith of our earliest Soldiers was encouraged and meant to be expressed!
As I close, I want to leave you with these final thoughts:
If you were lying on your back, while the sounds of war are numb in your ears, and you see the face of your chaplain looking down upon you, are you ready to cross the threshold of eternity?
The nature of war and its decimation of our frail flesh has not changed.
The essential ministry of our nation's first chaplains is still essential today.
We are here for you.
We desire to bring God to Soldiers and Soldiers to God while we live this God called Army adventure with you.
1"A Brief Account of Religion and the Revolutionary War Chaplaincy: Part 2." 2016. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://www.continentalline.org/CL/wp-content/uploads/Articles/article.php?date=9601763fda831f0fa2623e0e69951d927d7b1bba7165e6c2e4f239832fe189cd4606905e43e98a8539ac3953c7613853b99bedd173a891ac2b01778a1f925014d655article=960102
2"The Continental Congress Establishes Articles of War, June 30, 1775 - American Memory Timeline- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources - Library of Congress." 2016. Webpage. Accessed July 16, 2018. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/contarmy/articles.html