Church as a Chapel of Hope

Many years ago, I was an officer in the US Navy. Today, I find it hard to believe that I ever went that route. I really, really, enjoy my civilian status, and have little to no interest in politics and geopolitics.

Chapel of Hope, Naval Station Newport

Getting back on track in the story, I graduated from college and was accepted in the NUPOC program. I went to Newport, Road Island to attend Officer Candidate School (OCS), Batch 87006, Alfa Company. Historically, OCS was more of a “knife and fork” school… learning the niceties of being a Naval Officer. At that time, however, things were different. It had more of a boot camp feel. That probably is a good thing. But having a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a good GPA, I could not believe that I volunteered to be yelled at and abused.

Indoctrination week was the harshest from this standpoint. I am sure people who had gone to enlisted boot camp or BUDS would laugh at how wimpy I was with OCS Indoc week. But it was a challenge for me and many others as well.

But one moment was different. During Indoc week, we were scheduled to meet the Navy Chaplains. I think that one was Southern Baptist, another United Methodist, and a third Roman Catholic. We were marched to the Navy chapel (“Chapel of Hope”), and told where to sit. The chaplains welcomed us. They thanked our company instructors (our motivational abusers). Then the chaplains told the instructors to leave the sanctuary. After the instructors left, the chaplains went back and ceremoniously closed the back door of the sanctuary.

At that point, the chaplains told us to relax. The chapel is a refuge, a chapel of hope… there is no rank in the chapel. Chaplains will talk to us as people… not rates, paygrades, divisions, and ID numbers. They will also do their best to minister to everyone… even those of a different faith.

This is a liberating concept. My experience with Navy chaplains has been that they practice what they preach (a good thing).

Shouldn’t all churches be like this? Shouldn’t churches:

  • Be seen as a refuge from the foolishness and violence of the surrounding world?
  • Treat people equally regardless of earnings and accomplishment?
  • Seek to minister to all people in the surrounding community… not just “members”?

Churches too often fail to do this… but if they learned to do this, people would see church as the place to be, not a place to avoid. Churches should radically contrast the twisted values of the surrounding society, rather than reinforce them.

Maybe churches need to embrace the symbolism of the Navy Chaplains at the Chapel of Hope. Welcome all in need of hope and comfort and shut the doors on those that harm and abuse. <Remembering, of course, that those who abuse also need hope.>

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