Strange Ministry

Reblogged from Proclaim Peace

by Seth Bryant, a US Navy Chaplain serving the Marines at 29 Palms, CA

The desert is remote, having a stark beauty punctuated with relentless heat. In God or the Navy’s wisdom, my orders were switched from Okinawa to 29 Palms, so here we are.

I found myself this last week giving suicide prevention briefs inside of an armory, surrounded by M16s, M4s, 9mms, and rocket launchers.  It struck me that this was a most absurd combination, and a most strange ministerial task for a priesthood member of Community of Christ.

That was Thursday.

Come Friday, I attended a safety brief where the Marines were told to have a good time this weekend, but don’t do anything stupid.  For good measure, one of the leader’s threw in his advice on relaxation, telling them to “Go [expletive] somebody this weekend, then come back ready to work on Monday.”  Again, in this moment, it struck me that this was a most unusual place for a member of the priesthood to be ministering.

Aware of my presence, several looks shot in my direction to see what I would do or say.  Once the leader became aware of me among the troops, he then added, “Sorry, chaps!”  Without thinking, I shouted in response, “Use a rubber!”

Good advice?  Sure.  Laughter in response?  Absolutely.

As I walked away, I weighed my response to what would have been a most absurd statement at any other workplace.  Perhaps, if they remembered, my three words might have stopped an unwanted pregnancy or STD.  But I was worried that when I should have been crying repentance, the best I could do was cry prevention.  And prevention seems too much like condoning.  Maybe I’m just relenting, being a realist, when the vision of a redeemed creation shouldn’t bow so easily.  But three words and two seconds were about all I had, and what else was I supposed to do?

I find myself caught in a landscape so foreign to traditional ministry.  It’s a rough place because its occupied by the Marines, men as harsh as the desert about me.  I would have preferred to preach on responsible sexual ethics during that safety brief, using words more in line with the statement just produced by the church.  But I am caught in a strange ministry.

And this strange ministry reminds me that we live in a broken world.  I have, through Christ, renounced the world’s brokenness and embraced the hope of restoration and wholeness.  And yet I belong and minister to a population that is simultaneously our best defense against and best indication of the brokenness.  Some would say that the military only perpetuates the brokenness, rather than solving it.  They’d probably be right.  Still, like two angels on my shoulders, the proud military officer inside of me reminds my tree-hugging idealist self that the freedom for some to dream comes at a terrible cost born by others.  And the tree hugger shouts back, “Live by the sword, die by the sword!”

We can put padding about the sharp edges of our broken world, to avoid getting cut.  But the disjointedness between ideals and reality is bound to frustrate efforts and souls.

Am I frustrated?  Sure.

And yet, in this last week alone, my one-on-one ministry likely, with no exaggeration, averted the most terrible tragedy and disaster that you can imagine in the lives of several persons.  So I keep pushing on, mending and making whole where I can, and padding the sharp edges where I have little choice, hoping that my work is making a difference for the better.

Hear the word of the Lord:
“Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion” (2 Nephi 12:30).

This strange ministry has me in a state which is anything but “at ease,” straining to see a vision of Zion that ever seems on the horizon.  Yet I believe.  Yet I hope.  Yet I labor.

6 thoughts on “Strange Ministry

  1. Thank you so much for your story. I am in South Africa right now studying abroad and have also found myself in what you call “strange circumstances.” This was the encouragement I’ve been needing lately. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ardice Toepfer says:

    Seth: To share your dilemma, experiences & testimony with a lot of us who honestly do not have a clue about the preparation for war is braving a threshold & taking a chance on our response. I’ll bet, too, that this brief sharing has been written as much for the benefit of your peers & the men & women you minister to within the Marines as much as it is intended for the rest of us, and your fellow priesthood within Community of Christ (whether you can recognize this element right now or not). I’m also betting that those men & women who depend on your ministry have been reassured, comforted & proud to have had opportunity to have read your testimony, as it gives added expression to their faith & trust in you. These men & women perceive what you have to encounter …and their respect for you magnifies when you are able to still send a message of love (not one of judgment much less condemnation -no preaching squeezed in). And, at least those who have been fortunate to receive advice & counsel from you, will know where your stance is. Your personal life style, habits, gestures, the path you have chosen to journey in …as you travel through the discord of the world’s “reality”… is proof enough to those with eyes to see & ears to hear exactly where you walk. And it appears to them it just may be the path of Jesus the Christ! May you keep the faith. My prayer is for your steadfastness in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Bless you.

  3. Meghan says:

    I really appreciate your story! Thank you for your thoughtful ministry and for sharing your experiences with us. And what a poignant scripture you chose!

  4. David Brock says:

    Thank you, Seth. Honest. Real. Self-reflective. Pastoral. Doing theology in the midst of the ‘rough and tumble’ of life as it is encountered. Thank you for your witness. Courage and blessings.

  5. GMc says:

    I appreciate you telling of your experience, and your EFFORTS during the reality of your ministry! I can relate..being a pastor, single father, and idealist myself, I find myself in “strange” circumstances where I’m expected to provide ministry. Yet I HOPE!

  6. Doug Noltie says:

    Seth: An extrordinarily lucid expression of the dichotomies we face in “real life”, and the need to make positive contributions regardless of the context. Thank you for sharing. Doug Noltie.

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