Veterans Day is observed in the U.S. on Thursday, November 11. This post is the first of a 2 part series. The next installment will be published Monday, November 15.
One of the first female chaplains called to active duty, Retired Colonel Janet Horton has had her share of war stories both on and off the field. She gave 28 years of her life in service to her country from 1976 to 2004.
Currently, Horton is the Christian Science Military Chaplain Endorsing Agent for The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, world headquarters for Christian Science churches. I spoke with her this week about the challenges she has faced and the triumphs she has experienced during her distinguished career.
“Love for all mankind,” was her immediate response when asked why someone seeks to be a military chaplain. This affection runs deep. Willingness to be sent to some of the remotest parts of the globe signals a desire to practice what you preach. Chaplaincy is a selfless career choice. According to Horton, two Christian Science chaplains are being deployed early in 2011, one to Afghanistan, another to Kuwait.
It is often assumed that Christian Scientists have no support system in the military. After all, Christian Science churches are lay churches with no ordained clergy or ministerial staff. Christian Science worship services are conducted by elected members of the congregation. Yet, this is not a hindrance for those who wish to be Christian Science military chaplains. They do have to meet the same requirements as chaplains of other denominations. These include:
*A baccalaureate degree of not less than 120 semester hours
*Completion of no less than 72 semester hours of graduate professional study in theology
*Completion of a minimum of two years of full-time professional experience if applying for active duty.
Christian Science chaplains also go through additional training under the auspices of The Mother Church, its world headquarters.
As part of a team of Protestant chaplains, Horton notes that 90% of the work Christian Science chaplains perform is with men and women of different denominations. In addition to providing a needed spiritual perspective in daily military life, chaplains help out wherever they can to meet the religious needs of this special community. Their work includes regular preaching duties as well as finding places to come together. Dialoging with a unit’s commander about troop spiritual support is another component of the job.
Horton learned early on in her career to be vigilant in her Christian life. As she puts it, her vocation has required her to “come to a spiritual position of attention.” Horton has met some resistance along the way, both as a Christian Scientist and as a woman.
She relates a time when an individual spit on her, a hint of his distaste for her being on post. He thought that as a woman, Horton had been given two very high medals that she did not deserve. Rather than being personally offended by his actions, her response was pity for the young man. It came to her, “What has this man been through to have been led to spit on another human being.”
Her grace and her heart-felt prayer was enough to heal the unpleasant encounter immediately. The man got down on his knees and asked forgiveness. Horton felt like she was on her knees too, on holy ground. She recalls being grateful for this meeting, because the man was not only courageous enough to forgive, but strong enough to voice his uneasiness in the first place, concerns which needed to be healed.
Horton has the highest admiration for her fellow chaplains. “Most are the ‘real deal.’ They love God, neighbor and mankind.” They would help her in anyway they could, including handing out Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, a companion book to the Bible studied by Christian Scientists. “These folks are very supportive.”
Horton admits that each individual comes with his/her own personal issues and biases. Some of her colleagues’ preconceptions about Christian Science would impact her work. For example, as a Christian Scientist she was sometimes left out of the preaching rotation. She attributes these instances to misinformation about her faith. Once they got to know her, once they realized how well she knew her Bible, doors would open up. “Besides,” she says, “they also wanted to hear more of the wonderful healings accomplished through Christian Science.”
Qualification for endorsement of Christian Science chaplains includes this requirement, “They should be examples of lives lived in the spirit and letter of Christ’s Christianity as taught by our Leader, Mary Baker Eddy, and able to communicate this readily to the general public.” Horton has the credentials.
In the second installment of this post, Horton talks about her incredible experience while stationed at the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Below is a brief segment of the Columbus Veterans Day parade passing in front of the Ohio Statehouse on 11/5/2010