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More then Parachutes and Combat Boots

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By Chelsea Achterberg

In February I spent a month learning how to jump out of airplanes, build relationships, and even do marital and personal counseling! Most people want to hear about jumping out of planes, and why not, it’s sexy, adventurous, dangerous. What people need to hear about is caring for people, asking about their careers, families, faith, and the heartbreaking reality that other chaplains might refuse to care for them.

We live in a culture that says, “if you don’t agree, walk away.” A divestment culture — not only monetarily but also relationally. The church is no exception, as members of Proclaim or an advocate for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries we have lived this. Our wrestling as a Church, with divestment in instances of injustice, military chaplaincy can get caught up in debates around the military as a whole. As a result we discourage military chaplaincy and have allowed for exclusionary voices to take the lead in chaplaincy.

See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves

When I counseled a newly married military lesbian couple, hearing their stories of the struggles of distance, marriage to another soldier, and adjusting to married life, I couldn’t help but be reminded, these women will face many chaplains who will not care for them. When many chaplains hear “my wife” they are going to politely but firmly say unless they want to “repent” of their sin of homosexuality they will have little to offer. Many denominations are known to tell chaplains who they are allowed to counsel and who are allowed to lead services. This is the price of divestment from chaplaincy. The face of siblings who will navigate spirituality, sexuality, and marriage without a spiritual caregiver.

There is a great need for more welcoming and affirming chaplains, and we as LGBTQIA+ pastors and seminarians bring a special witness, in addition to all of the gifts we bring as Lutherans. We have felt this pain in our own Church and many of our congregations and seminaries and we are blessed to bring that experience, along with our own identities and affirmation to those we care for. We have the opportunity to live into a vision and hope of the Gospel that many can scarcely imagine yet alone have seen.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

What can you do about all of this?

Resist the call to divest relationally from military chaplaincy. It is an imperfect institution but God’s children who serve deserve spiritual support from chaplains who will support them, not turn them away and cause spiritual harm.

Consider if God might be calling you (or someone you know) to military chaplaincy. If you desire adventure, are active, have a heart for people on the margins, and an eagerness to learn a new way of life, then chaplaincy might be for you!

Join the conversation. Be engaged in the work and needs of ELCA chaplains across the federal government in their care for service members, veterans, and those in prison. Meet with those local to you.

Pray for service members and their chaplains, especially our ELCA chaplains who have answered the call to care for God’s people.

If you are attending the 2019 Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, look for military chaplains in uniform on Tuesday (Aug. 6) and have a conversation about their work!


Bio: Chelsea Achterberg (she/her/hers) is a Chaplain Candidate, allowing her to serve in the Army Reserves while continuing to work towards ordination. She is married to Proclaim Chaplain Mandy, together they have a house rabbit Mosby. Chelsea is enjoying a return to parish ministry as a Pastoral Intern at Holy Trinity in Charlotte, NC after two years serving in hospital chaplaincy.

One Response to “More then Parachutes and Combat Boots”

  1. Carol Ann Deike says:

    Chelsea I love you so much and am so very proud of you. We all need to feel the love and compassion you show. Bless you – stay safe.