Chaplains offer real independence to those who fight for it
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – While soldiers, sailors and airmen in the armed services defend freedom on a daily basis, military chaplains fulfill a higher call of duty, offering spiritual freedom to those who serve our country domestically and abroad. For U.S. Army Chaplain Brandon Denning, God used his past military experience and ministry training at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare him for the task.
“As chaplains, we deal in relationships,” Denning said. “I never thought God would call me to be a missionary,” He views chaplaincy as a missionary opportunity to a unique people group.
“The military is often a culture that is overlooked as far as missions is concerned, and yet it is one of the biggest missionary fields we’ve got out there,” Denning said, adding, “We’ve got soldiers who need the Lord.”
In 1996, Denning became the 453rd sentinel to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. He served in this highly honored post for four years, conducting more than 700 walks before receiving an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. After leaving the military, he never thought he would return.
While attending Southwestern Seminary for a Master of divinity with a concentration in pastoral counseling, Denning felt the Lord leading him back toward the military. Through his experience as a volunteer fire chaplain as well as the injury to a friend in Iraq, he began to reconsider military chaplaincy. Upon graduation, he reported for active duty to the 82nd Airborne pision in Fort Bragg, N.C., June 6.
Justin Woods, president of the chaplain fellowship at Southwestern, spoke of the dangers and duty of chaplains during Denning’s chaplain commissioning ceremony, May 9. “On the battlefield, it’s a real battle with real enemies that fire real guns with real bullets,” he said. “We’re there to provide real answers and real hope with a real gospel.” Woods, himself, was commissioned in June for chaplain service in the Air Force.
Nathan Clardy, a Master of divinity student at Southwestern, was commissioned into the Navy chaplain program as a reserve officer on May 2. Coming from a lineage of military and chaplain service, Clardy’s grandfather served as a Navy chaplain, and his father served in the Air Force for 18 years before becoming a pastor.
“I always knew the military would be part of my life, but when God called me to ministry, I kind of wasn’t sure what direction I’d go,” said Clardy. Called to ministry at age 12, he feels God has prepared him both experientially and ministerially for serving as a chaplain. “He’s really given me a love to build relationships with people and, out of that, to give them guidance and help them find Christ.”
Tom Vann, associate professor of pastoral ministry and a retired U.S. Army chaplain, says the seminary has a strong chaplain program and has seen several graduates serve in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years.
“Southwestern has a reputation for training high quality military chaplains,” Vann said, adding that between 20 and 30 Southwestern students each year are involved with the Army, Navy or Air Force as chaplain candidates.
Southwestern Seminary has a long and illustrious history of veteran service and chaplain ministry. Founding president B.H. Carroll fought in the 17th Volunteer Texas Infantry Regiment and was severely wounded at the Battle of Mansfield, La., in 1864. The seminary’s third president, J. Howard Williams, served as an Army chaplain in Europe during World War I.
For the past 100 years, hundreds of Southwesterners have served as military chaplains, taking the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ to life-threatening battlefields around the world. To learn more about this heritage, visit www.swbts.edu/chaplaincy.