Navy Lieutenant Commander Genevieve Clark, always desired to serve the country through the armed forces but was unsure how to merge her call to ministry with her call to serve. Clark would begin her service in parish ministry but after a conversation with a United Methodist colleague who was an active-duty Navy chaplain, those feelings of a deeper call began to resurface. The conversation Clark had would be a life changing moment where she would finally find her “perfect fit” in service and ministry.
Clark’s story and journey of becoming a military chaplain, is one that many others can identify with. Most people want to feel fulfilled and connected to the work they do. The General Board of Higher Education understands the importance of growing United Methodist clergy who serve outside of church congregations but still want to be connected to ministry. The United Methodist Endorsing Agency (UMEA) was established during World War II in response to the need for spiritual care to military service personnel.
The United Methodist Endorsing Agency, part of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, oversees the process established by the church to ensure clergy who are called to serve as chaplains and pastoral counselors possess the skills and capabilities and are appropriate representatives of the denomination to serve in specialized ministries. To learn more about UMEA and the services it offers visit: gbhem.org/clergy/chaplains-pastoral-counselors.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of women being admitted to the military chaplaincy. A formal celebration was held in Arlington, VA Jan. 12th. While 50 years is a remarkable feat, this achievement hasn’t been without its obstacles. The history of women chaplains can be dated back to the Civil War. Ella Gibson Hobart was voted in and served as the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment’s chaplain, she did so without commission, pay or pension. In 1876 she received compensation and in 2002 she was posthumously commissioned.
There has been much progress since Ella Gibson Hobart served as a military chaplain however active-duty women military chaplains statistically make up less than 5% of military chaplains. This small number is still mighty in the difference it makes in the culture of the United States military. These women not only offer hope and progress, but a safe space for women service members. Air Force Major Kimberly Hall expressed, “Since I have been in the military, I constantly have been told you are the first female chaplain I have ever met and there is an excitement about that. For other service members, who have experienced sexual assault, harassment or domestic violence, a female chaplain can be a safe space for another female who may feel more comfortable relaying the details about their trauma.”
Many times, the support the United Methodist Endorsing Agency offers goes beyond endorsement. “When I first entered Active-duty status as a Military Chaplain, my first duty assignment was overseas in Germany.” Said Hall. “Tom Carter who served as the United Methodist endorser at the time, made annual trips to Germany to provide a connectional time of conferencing for those of us who served as United Methodist chaplains in Europe. The schedule was filled with education, fellowship and fun. His presence and interest in our ministry work as chaplains was the best support we could ask for.”
Others enjoy the opportunity UMEA provides to engage with fellow chaplains and military personnel. “Any time I am able to gather with people in a similar situation it gives me strength, joy, and encouragement.” Remarked Chaplain Lieutenant Colonel Kristi Hopp.
Today more women are entering the armed forces and forging a path of inclusion and connection. There is no doubt that women chaplains bring a unique perspective and set of qualities that are essentially important. “As the U.S. Armed Forces train more women soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguard,” said U.S. Army Chaplain Colonel Karen L. Meeker. “Our women chaplains will bring an even greater value to their units and ultimately to our country.”