Last Friday we finished up Phase I, the second of the four classes I’m taking this summer. Phase I was a two week course in how to be a staff officer. Part of what makes Army Chaplaincy such an interesting job is that it is really two jobs: clergy and officer. We are learning to apply our clergy skills (preaching, pastoral care, leading worship, teaching, etc.) to the military context. Meanwhile, we are also learning how to serve a military commander as an expert advisor. Did I take a class in seminary about the historical interaction of Christianity and Islam in Syria? No I did not. Might I need to be an expert on this subject in the near future? Yes. Yes I probably will. Also, I need to be able to educate and advise some seriously high-power people on this (and other similar) topics clearly, quickly, and in the proper format. Good thing I’ve always found comparative religion an interesting topic because there is an awful lot of reading in my future.
It’s that “proper format” piece that dominated Phase I. We practiced writing Army Memorandums (Formal, for those outside our command; Informal for those within our command; Memorandums for Record, to create a personal accountability trail; and plain old Letters, for writing to you civilian types). Good thing I have a high tolerance for minutia is all I have to say about that. We practiced filling out various forms (just a few of the most popular. I suspect no one living person knows how to fill out every Army form). And we had the opportunity to assemble and present a briefing. Those of you at Christ Church in Puyallup know how much I enjoy the flashy extras of Power Point. Apparently the Army is less amused by chalk-dust explosions on the entry of novelty fonts.
I’ve had more than my fair share of practice too. At the beginning of each new class a few class leadership positions are shifted around. With no prior military experience I’m in no danger of being apportioned serious responsibility, but someone must have figured I could handle paperwork. For the past two weeks I’ve been my platoon’s S-1 officer. In a real unit the S-1 handles all matters pertaining to personnel. It’s a huge job. In a class platoon its mostly keeping track of authorized absences (unauthorized absences quickly rise to more serious levels of authority) and getting birthday cards for people. It gives me a chance to practice my memo skills as well as my spreadsheet prowess.
This past Monday we started Phase II. The training schedule doesn’t say what the theme of each class is, so I’m not sure exactly what the overall flavor of the next three and a half weeks will be. So far we’ve spent a great deal of time talking about Religious Area Assessments (which is where you get to become an expert in the religious history and culture of some area before your unit goes there). The classes continue to be interesting, and the whole course continues to be a bit like drinking from a fire-hose, as they say. I’m trying to get a bucket to catch some of the drink I’m unable to swallow, but I have a feeling there will be much to re-cover when I get home.
In the next couple weeks I’m planning to write a bit about two topics which you might find interesting. First, I want to tell you about the kinds of people I’m seeing as military chaplains. For someone who’s known a LOT of clergy in his life, the personalities here are pretty amazing. Second, I want to spend some more time reflecting on the interfaith/interdenominational approach to religion practiced in the military. Both of those subjects to come.
For now I’ll close with a couple links I’d recommend for following the Episcopal Church’s General Convention which starts today. Or maybe yesterday; the schedule is confusing. The official site is here. It’s pretty sterile, but you can find official schedules and documents. Of more interest is Bishop Rickel’s blog, where he promises to post daily. His opening reflection is a good one, and sets the tone almost exactly as I would in terms of optimism and serious concern for our church. The other site you might enjoy is one I’ve recommended before, Crusty Old Dean. He has copious words for you, and they are good, but hard, words. The Episcopal Church is sailing dangerous waters these days, and this General Convention is a place many of us are hoping will haul the tiller over and set a new course.
That’s it for now. Enjoy your holiday!