The same old question comes up from time to time in the Hampton Roads area, an area with a large military presence. Should civilians be allowed to worship at military base chapels? This seems like a no brainer to me, folks.
First, let’s look at the simple numbers. If all active duty and retirees in Hampton Roads decided to worship at their nearest base chapel, which they are entitled to do, the Department of Defense would have a major problem on their hands. Lucky for the base chapels, most folks I know factor in location when choosing their church, and since so many military live off base, they worship off base.
But some civilians live in areas where the nearest chapel is on base, and they choose to worship there. Such is the case at Naval Security Group Northwest, as is also the case at every base chapel I have ever attended in my 23 years as a Navy wife. Civilians have always been part of my faith community. And for that I am grateful.
A priest who works at a local university campus recently spoke about the most common question he gets from college students. Why do I have to go to church? Can’t I just talk to God directly by myself? He explained that of course they could. In fact, he encouraged them to do that. However, he explained that the value of going to church to pray with others on Sunday morning lies in the nature of prayer itself. When we come together to pray, we are admitting not only to God but also to each other that we can’t make it through this week, this crisis, this life, alone. We need each other. We are all equally vulnerable.
Sometimes military people come across in a way that suggests that that they can do it all alone. We are so organized. We are so networked. We are so lucky with all the support structure that the military community gives to us every time we move into a new community. We’ve got it so together. Sometimes it seems civilians really have the life. They have family that lives in the immediate area. They have the same job and the same friends forever. Their spouses are always around for major holidays. They go on real vacations, instead of spending that precious time visiting family who live some 500 miles away. These misconceptions about each other are the tiny cracks in our shared foundation. These tiny cracks have been evolving into misunderstandings about each other that only serve to enhance the deepening divide between civilians and military within our community and our country.
What better place to begin to putty those cracks than in church? When we come together each Sunday, we begin to realize that neither side has it all together. We all have our share of problems. Come to find out, that networked, got-it-all-together Navy wife breaks down and cries every Friday night her spouse is deployed. She’s just plain lonely. And it isn’t always easy to have an extended family in the immediate area. One of the loneliest rooms is one filled with relatives who don’t know who you really are. When we worship, we recognize our own vulnerabilities, and we join hands and ask God for help with the obstacles each of us face.
A base chapel is the perfect place to begin to build a bridge of understanding between military and civilian families. Our military leaders already know all too well the importance of moving forward with this bridge. They even have an official name for it – community outreach. Base CO’s need a little breathing room from Department of Defense directives, so that a solution can be reached that does not burn this bridge before we even try to cross it.