Recognizing the Sacrifice and Service of Chaplain Wives

December 4, 2017 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

“Our wives feel left behind and forgotten,” wrote Chaplain Scott L. Shields. A sentiment shared by dozens of other chaplains who each year travel to the annual Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Chaplain Conferences, one held on the West Coast, the other on the East.

Each year the Department of Defense (DOD) requires each denomination to host a yearly meeting for continued education for chaplains and reconnection with their denominations. However, the DOD doesn’t fund the travel expenses for the chaplains’ wives. Neither are these conferences voluntary. If the spouse wants to go, they have to pay their own way, which means the wives rarely attend.

Rev. Craig Muehler, Director of the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces said, “I know how it is. I’ve been going to conferences for 28 years, but for one reason or another—couldn’t afford it or no one to stay with the children—my wife made it to two conferences.”

Think about that. Two times in 28 years. That’s once every 14 years. His wife was left behind for a week, 26 times over 28 years.

Faithful wives among difficult duties

Keep in mind, this is a profession that includes deployments and emergencies that frequently take husbands away for extended periods of time. Moreover, chaplains and their families are often stationed in isolated locations—without a Lutheran congregation for hundreds of miles.

For example, U.S. Navy Chaplain Rev. Merlin Stephan is stationed on the USS Ashland in Sasebo, Japan. In the past, he would travel to the West Coast Chaplain Conference alone, leaving his wife behind since the travel expenses were just too high.

There is a lot at stake here.

“We all know how important a faithful and loving spouse is to her husband in any occupation, but this is particularly true in the case of an Armed Forces Chaplain,” writes James C. Doebler, Chairman of LCMS Committee on Ministry to the Armed Forces. “We are dealing with such challenging issues as family separation during arduous deployments, concern about safety and well-being of separated family members, suicide prevention counseling, post-traumatic stress disorder … while continuing to preach and teach the Gospel to our military members stationed around the world.”

In 2016 the Ministry to the Armed Forces applied for and received a grant from The Kaleidoscope Fund, a granting program established by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF). Half this grant went towards travel expenses for chaplain wives to the West Coast Chaplain Conference at the Naval Air Station on Coronado Island, San Diego, Jan. 23-27. Forty-four chaplains, five retired chaplains and 24 wives attended.

“I travel so much for my duties alone that being together is a blessed contribution to our marriage as a military, pastoral and personal couple,” Chaplain (Colonel) Russel L. Deuell said.

“With this grant,” the Ministry to the Armed Forces staff wrote in a card to LCEF, “their wives and families were able to attend as well as spend quality time with their husbands, a cool and refreshing time.”

Like coming home to a safe place

The West Coast conference was called, “Baptism Is Your Identity” and included a speaker, breakout sessions and a long banquet. After everyone arrived on Monday, they held a Divine Service with communion and then a fellowship reception that followed.

For the wives, this was an opportunity to get rested and fed by communion with other Lutherans. One spouse said, “This was time away for spiritual renewal and fellowship, which is a luxury and I so appreciate [LCEF] making this opportunity available to us.”

“Years ago,” grant writer for the Ministry to the Armed Forces, Mary Hamilton, said, “women hung out in the kitchen.” They can’t do that anymore so they crave a connection. Not surprising, a private Facebook community for the chaplains’ wives was opened as a natural offshoot of the West Coast. “Facebook is the new family kitchen.”

“As reservists,” another spouse said, “we don’t have the same type of military support network and so this type of relationship is so important.”

Where did the idea come from?

“We were trying to brainstorm,” said Muehler. “We had the idea. We just wondered how we could do this. Steve and I just couldn’t find the grant opportunity. Then this came up.”

“This really met a need,” Hamilton said. “It’s my job to find potential grants, and so I particularly wanted to thank LCEF, to whom we are extremely grateful. This is something our donors typically don’t see. Bringing wives to a conference isn’t always viewed as mission savvy as opening water wells or building schools. Sometimes the needs of the chaplain wives would get put on the back burner for something more ‘pressing.’”

Steve said: “When LCEF supports this, it’s like they are saying ‘We love you!’ War is still going on, casualties, they are still in harm’s way. There are three chaplains in Kuwait and one in Afghanistan. This is the Church’s way of saying ‘Thank you.'”

The other half of their Kaleidoscope Fund grant went to pay for the travel expenses of the chaplain wives who attended the East Coast Conference, held in Jackson, Fla. For this meeting, the team did more breakouts to allow for more time for the ladies to bond.

Caring for the needs of the LCMS armed forces chaplains and their wives is an incredible opportunity to partner with those who are sharing the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That’s exactly the kind of ministry the Kaleidoscope Fund was intended to support.

Congratulations, Rev. Craig Muehler, Mary Hamilton and LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces!

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.