For ten years, my husband served as a Chaplain in the United States Army. Here are a few memories from those days.
Our son was 5. The only church experience he had was the Baptist church where my husband was pastor before the Army. In Army chapels, Protestants from all denominations worship together. On our first chapel Sunday, the chaplain conducting the service entered, walking down the aisle in a plain robe with a rope belt. In a stage whisper, Paul announced, “He’s not really Jesus!”
In Panama, Thanksgiving service was a beautiful harvest celebration. I can still close my eyes and see the tables laden with fruit that stretched across the front of the chapel, smell the sweetness as we approached the tables after the service, and feel the weight of the fruit in my hands that we were encouraged to pick up and share with neighbors.
Another Thanksgiving tradition was dinner in the chow hall with the troops. Chaplains appear in dress blues to visit the soldiers. There were competitions among the various chow halls, so there were decorations, ice carvings, and lots of special dishes. I especially remember the young soldiers who were away from home for the first time…
One of my husband’s most popular programs was movie night. He did not show religious movies, but just ordinary movies, followed by a 5-minute talk that related a message of faith to something in the movie. My job- bringing home-baked cookies and popping popcorn.
My husband delighted in the time he got to play the part of a drug smuggler during a training exercise. The “stash” was hidden in a hollowed-out paperback book he was “reading.” He made it through several days before finally being “arrested.”
During a wedding at an Army chapel at the critical moment just after the all-important question, our toddler daughter said, “No, no! No, no!” Luckily, it wasn’t too loud. But the people in the pews near us had a hard time not laughing!
Christmas featured the Chrismon tree- a beautiful evergreen with white and gold symbols of Christian faith decorating it.
I visited my husband when he was stationed in Greece. We drove from Athens to Thessaloniki. Seeing the shepherds and sheep dotting the countryside gave me a new, real image of “certain poor shepherds, in fields where they lay keeping their sheep.”
Chaplain’s wives had monthly fellowships. One special time I remember is when a friend giving the devotional shared, with wonder in her voice, her experience of giving birth to her son on Christmas eve and how she, like Mary, “treasured these things in her heart.”
It was in an Army chapel where I first received a palm branch on Palm Sunday and learned to form it into a cross.
For two years in a row at Fort Bragg, my husband was in a production of “The Last Supper” on Maundy Thursday. He was the disciple James. (His first name was James.) If we hadn’t known in advance, we wouldn’t have recognized him in his costume and make up.
Easter sunrise service was always one of the highlights of the year, and never more so than with the Panama Canal as the backdrop. Glorious!