On September 12, 2017, a large crowd of members of the seminary community gathered over lunch to announce and celebrate the launch of Seminary of the Southwest’s new Military Chaplaincy concentration of the master of Divinity (MDiv) degree. The Right Reverend Carl Wright, Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries, was the featured speaker and guest. He was among many military and chaplaincy leaders in attendance who shared in the excitement of the launch of this unique program.
Said The Very Rev. Cynthia Brigg Kittredge, Dean and President, “Bishop Carl’s presence on campus was a gift. By gathering so many communities touched by the Military Chaplaincy concentration, we were able to see what an impact this program will have. Students, faculty, military leadership, and Bishop Wright himself, all left energized about future prospects”
In the most recent issue of Ratherview, Bishop Wright shared how he thinks Southwest’s new program will affect the chaplaincy overall: “I think it’s going to strengthen the chaplaincy. I think it will make our core of chaplains or our cadre of Episcopal chaplains stronger when we have people who have had their sound theological training and intro to military culture simultaneously. I think it will make our chaplaincy stronger and even more effective missionaries to the military culture.”
The first of its type among Episcopal seminaries, this new concentration looks to provide the chaplaincy core with a broader ability to serve Episcopal members of the military, and better reflect the denominational makeup of the military overall.
When asked what he thought the greatest need in the Chaplaincy corp was, Bishop Wright shared, “A need for a much more diverse chaplaincy. Religiously diverse, socioeconomically diverse, racially diverse. There’s been a mission creep where the majority of military chaplains are presently of the more conservative Christian persuasion. There’s certainly not anything wrong with being a conservative Christian. Except for the fact that many of the people with whom we minister are not…the most important thing a military chaplain must do, is provide for the free exercise of religion for all military members. That’s why it’s important that we have a chaplaincy that reflects the diversity of military members. Culturally, geographically, regionally, religiously and in every other way, the American military is most definitely America in microcosm.”
The Rev. Dr. Dave Scheider, a former chaplain and currently faculty member, agreed: “The greatest issue in the chaplaincy is a lack of chaplains from affirming and inclusive denominations. Most chaplains are told by their endorsing agents not to provide ceremonies, counseling or retreats for couples in same sex marriages. The military cannot force the chaplains to disobey their civilian endorser so they need to find a chaplain who can provide those services.”