By Jason Austin, USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Public AffairsJune 6, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany - In a small space between the Tower of Babel and Pentecost, the all-inclusive nature of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps was shared with students from Heidelberg University's AfaEUR"kumenisches Institut und Wohnheim fAfA1/4r Studierende Heidelberg, or the Ecumenical Institute and student hall.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Druckenmiller, U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg community chaplain, visited the students May 27 during their weekly Hausabend, an evening consisting of a prayer meeting and a student-prepared meal followed by a themed presentation.
The Hausabend themes are decided by the students and range from living with schizophrenia to the South African apartheid, creation and quantum physics, and renewable energy. The students wanted to know more about the Americans in Heidelberg than their really nice playgrounds, referring to Mark Twain Village, according to Christiane Bindseil, the Institute's director of studies.
The Ecumenical Institute was founded in 1946, directly after World War II, by Dr. Edmund Schlink, according to Bindseil. In 1957 the combined Institute and Student Hall was constructed after a donation from the American section of the Lutheran World Federation.
The idea formed by Schlink was "...that students from all over the world live together with German students so that the youth of the nations who lived against each other in war get the opportunity to meet each other as friends," according to the Heidelberg University Web site. "This is to happen on a Christian basis, overcoming denominational borders ... This is not only for theology students but for students of all faculties..."
Today the student house hosts more than 20 students from multiple countries and faiths, and by mandate the student male and female population must be of equal number; half must German, and half must be non-German; one-third must be theological students, two-thirds from other disciplines; and two-thirds must be doctoral students.
The institute also accepts students of all faiths. Two of the current students are non-Christians, Bindseil said.
The inclusive nature of the institute mirrors the pluralistic nature of the chaplain corps, said Druckenmiller, with Army chaplains from most faith groups including Protestant Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Greek Orthodox and Muslim.
In the ecumenical sprite of the evening, the Hausabend prayer session was led by a Polish student in a liturgical Catholic style. The session focused on the Virgin Mary, which Bindseil said would lead to much discussion in the coming days. The prayer session was held in the student hall's chapel, which has at one end a stained glass window depicting the Tower of Babel - symbolic of the many languages spoken in the hall. The opposing window depicts the Pentecost, when the spirit of the Lord came upon the disciples following Christ's ascension into heaven.
The evening meal was decidedly Asian, being prepared jointly by Korean and Chinese students.
As the evening discussion began, Druckenmiller discussed his background from a childhood in Ohio, to his six years as a jet mechanic in the U.S. Air Force; his studies at the Baptist Bible College; his time pasturing at several churches, and attending seminary at Liberty Baptist College where he was ordained in 1980. Ten years later he came on active duty as a chaplain.
The students learned that U.S. Army chaplains must hold a graduate degree in theology or religious studies, be endorsed by their faith group, and have at least two years of professional theological experience.
Druckenmiller explained the combat role of a chaplain - to be a counselor to Soldiers and provide religious sacraments and last rites as needed. He also explained the unit ministry team, made up of a chaplain, who is a non-combatant, and an enlisted chaplain's assistant, who provides assistance and protection to the chaplain and the Soldiers receiving religious support.
"I'm actually quite glad I don't carry a weapon," Druckenmiller said.
Getting back to the root of why the students had invited him, Druckenmiller outlined the various religious congregations that meet in the Heidelberg military community, which range from Friday night Islamic services to general protestant services at Patrick Henry Village Chapel, which Druckenmiller said is the largest Army congregation outside the continental United States.
The students were given an opportunity to ask questions, and the first question was simple enough: "Are you a pastor'"
"Yes," Druckenmiller said. He has preached continuously throughout his career and has been pastoring at Mark Twain Village Chapel's traditional Protestant services, although he has not been in the pulpit lately. He admitted that his current position as community chaplain is the hardest job he's had in the more than 30 years service.
Another student asked how he could be both a pastor and a Soldier. Druckenmiller recalled the story of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, but was fearful that he wasn't deserving of Jesus' presence in his home because he was a Soldier.
"When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, 'I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith,'" quoting Matthew 8:10.
If Jesus saw nothing wrong with the centurion's profession, then Druckenmiller said he feels confident in his role as both a chaplain and a Soldier.
One student who said he has many Muslim friends, said he was surprised to know that there are Muslim chaplains in the U.S. Army and asked how that could be possible.
There are Imams who wear the uniform and support the religious needs of Islamic Soldiers, Druckenmiller said. He also noted that chaplains are prohibited from proselytizing, or trying to convert others to their particular religion, but rather they are there to support whatever religious needs their Soldiers may have.
Being college students eager to discuss more contemporary subjects, several students asked about the war in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, torture and other similar questions.
As a chaplain, his role is to advise commanders about things of a humanitarian or religious nature as they impact any given mission, but that as a chaplain his role is primarily to support Soldiers' religious needs, Druckenmiller said.
As the evening came to a close, the students presented Druckenmiller with a small gift and thanked him for sharing with them, and like any good pastor worth his salt, he invited them all to church.