• Chaplain symposium looks at future support

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    More than 100 chaplains, chaplain assistants and religious education directors from throughout the military gathered to discuss “Next Generation Religious Support” at the first Combined Arms Center Religious Support Symposium Sept. 17-21 at Frontier Chapel.
    The symposium has been in development since 2017 when Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jeff McKinney, then-Command and General Staff College ethics instructor, and Chaplain (Maj.) Josh Gilliam, CGSC assistant professor of world religions, began discussing how to reach a younger generation of soldiers. From there, they put the plan in motion, receiving a $22,000 grant from the Chief of Chaplains of the U.S. Army.
    With the money to fund the event, McKinney transferred away from Fort Leavenworth and Gilliam was left to put the symposium together. While planning the event, he read the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen, which provided language for the problem he and McKinney already sensed.
    “Xerox invented the first computer with a graphical user interface and the inventor said, ‘We have something here,’” Gilliam said. “Xerox couldn’t see it because they were so invested in making copiers better that they couldn’t imagine a world where people had computers in their home. They sold the idea to Steve Jobs and the rest is history.
    “The Chaplain Corps is in danger of falling to the innovator’s dilemma. We can be so invested in maintaining what we currently have that we can’t imagine a different world,” Gilliam said.
    “I don’t know if we need to go forward, backward or stay the same, but we’ve gathered people that are smart together and designed the conference in such a way that the lieutenants and captains have a voice, and I want them to help us figure out how to go forward.”
    Participants had different expectations going into the event.
    “I hope to get a better understanding of the chaplain mission Armywide,” said Spc. Erik Deavila, religious affairs specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 705th Military Police Battalion (Detention). “The next generation needs to be set up to where we can have religious confidence in or confidence in faith that they will be OK after our passing. I think it is important to reach out to that next generation at all steps. They are the future.”
    Lauren Brown, director of religious education, U.S. Army Hawaii, said she wanted to learn from others in the corps.
    “It is an opportunity to draw on the collective wisdom of the group (and) to learn how to better serve soldiers and their families,” she said. “We’re in a shifting point where our society is distinctly different from the modern Christian America.”
    Page 2 of 4 - Chaplain (Capt.) Jonathan Secrest, Joint Regional Correctional Facility chaplain, said he was hoping to gain a new perspective.
    “It is very easy to put on blinders, particularly when you’re in an institution,” Secrest said. “This helps me see what sometimes it is easy to be blind to, to even prefer to be blind to because you want to see yourself as successful. What this is doing is saying, ‘Guys, step back, be humble, realize we don’t have it yet.’”
    With these things in mind, the symposium began.
    Research study
    First, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, an evangelical Christian polling firm based in Ventura, Calif., shared the results of a research study that focused on young adults, ages 18 to 29, who grew up in a Christian home. Of that research, 22 percent identified themselves as prodigals or ex-Christians, 30 percent identified as nomads or lapsed Christians, 38 percent identified as habitual churchgoers and 10 percent identified as resilient disciples.
    Resilient disciples were defined as individuals who attend church at least monthly and engage with their church, trust firmly in the authority of the Bible, are committed to Jesus personally and affirm he was crucified and raised from the dead to conquer sin and death, and express desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith, Kinnaman said.
    These things come through the practice of experiencing Jesus, cultural discernment, meaningful relationships, vocational discipleship and countercultural mission.
    With these characteristics in mind, the question becomes, “How do we form young men and women into the person that God wants them to be?” Kinnaman asked.
    “You guys in the military have opportunities to do things that those of us in civilian life and ministry and religious studies don’t have the opportunities to do,” he said. “You have the opportunity to help shape the thought process, the reading list, the viewing list. You have a captive audience in some cases. When you think about (shaping) the spiritual imagination of the next generation, you have incredible opportunities for that.”
    Chaplain (Capt.) Jeremy Plexka, 65th Brigade Engineer Battalion chaplain, Wahiawa, Hawaii, said Kinnaman’s findings were insightful.
    “Even though it wasn’t specific to the military, it has application within and that will be very powerful as we look to the future and develop programs that reach that unchurched or alienated group,” he said.
    The panels
    Finding ways to reach the next generation was a key part of the three panels, “The Future of Preaching: Future Trends in Pastoral Leadership and Preaching and Adaptive Preaching in a Military Environment,” “Social Media and Technology: iChapel: The Future of Communication and Community” and “Leading Change: The Chapel Next Story.”
    Page 3 of 4 - The first panel, done in two parts, asked questions like, “What should we be assessing as we lead religious communities?” and “How has the importance of preaching changed or stayed the same?”
    The second panel asked the questions, “Should chapels use social media to connect with soldiers?” and “What is the proper role of technology in service?”
    “Social media is poorly used by people all over,” said Chaplain (1st Lt.) Drew McGinley, 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., who served as one of the panelists. “We’re not advocating for you to be a consumer, but a practitioner of social media.”
    The third panel featured Chaplain (Col.) David Shoffner, senior chaplain, U.S. Army Garrison, Hawaii; Chaplain (Col.) Steve Peck, I Corps chaplain, Joint Base Lewis-McChord; and Chaplain (Col.) Jeff Hawkins, commandant of the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, Fort Jackson, S.C., the originators of Chapel Next, who told the stories of their successes and failures while trying to reach a new generation of soldiers.
    Hawkins said it came down to four distinctive parts: willingness to change the method, a gift-based passion not driven by rank, community and being wildly creative.
    “We didn’t tinker with the message, but we tinkered with the methods,” Hawkins said.
    Break-out sessions
    Following the panels, 24 participants presented research papers that discussed a wide range of topics. All papers will be published by Army University Press by the end of the year.
    Chapel Next
    With the problem established, day two focused on the solution, beginning with Peck as the keynote speaker with his presentation, “Chapel Next … It’s Your Father’s Chapel.”
    “Chapel Next is a monument calling for relentless leaders leading fearless teams who assault the status quo, seize risk (and) innovate wildly all at the benefit of the next generation,” Peck said.
    “Risk is the life blood of revolutions and of true leaders. Change inherently requires a leader because a leader will take risks to leave where he is at in order to go somewhere else. No one ever accomplished anything without taking risks.”
    Common levels of support
    To conclude the symposium, participants split into working groups to discuss the U.S. Army Installation Management Command’s six common levels of support — worship, spiritual fitness, religious education, family ministry, pastoral care and training — and what things they felt needed to change in each area. Then, the groups came together and presented their results.
    Chaplain (Maj.) Seth George, Special Operations Command South, Homestead, Fla., said the symposium was long overdue.
    Page 4 of 4 - “We all come from a variety of backgrounds, so to have a very specific conversation about how to engage and worship together for soldiers is long overdue,” George said. “It is unique.”
    Chaplain (1st Lt.) Steven Delaney, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fort Bragg, N.C., said he had something to take back both to his colleagues and the soldiers in his battalion.
    “For my other chaplains, I’m going to tell them my vision, where I’m going to go, and I’m either going to kick the door in or not. Understand what the corps (and) what our commander is asking us to do. Let’s do what is right so that we can do something different,” Delaney said.
    “For my battalion, it is understanding that it is a new generation. I don’t have a Snapchat, I don’t have an Instagram, but I learned that’s real. This is where they talk and communicate. So, I’m going to add that to my repertoire and how I communicate with and to them and hear from them. I want to give them the most information I can.”
    For more information about the symposium visit the Next Generation Religious Support Facebook page.
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