The Voice for Chaplaincy - Chartered by Congress - Serving Since 1925
Weekly Newsgram - July 4th 2018
Happy 242nd Birthday 
United States of America
Norris Burkes
Defending the Constitution isn't magic

As a chaplain, I find no greater meaning for Independence Day than in our constitutional right to freedom of worship.

I had first-hand experience observing this right challenged during my 2009 deployment as a USAF Protestant Chaplain in Balad, Iraq.

One afternoon the Senior Chaplain, Richard Hartwell, invited me to his office to introduce me to a chapel visitor. The man, a sergeant in his mid-30s, said he and his friends were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

He explained how vandals had recently scribbled inflammatory words on the wall of their meeting place.

Now, the sergeant said, they needed to find a new and secretive place of worship.

"Why not meet in our chapel?" I asked.

My boss nodded at the sergeant, inviting full disclosure.

"We are a small circle of Wiccans," the sergeant said.

If you question why Protestant chaplains should come to the aid of a pagan group, you wouldn't be alone. After all, Wiccans are a far cry from my Baptist brand or my boss' Methodist practice. Hartwell and I shared reasonable tension over the idea of helping Wiccans.

But we also shared a pledge called the oath of office. During the 28 years I served as a chaplain, I solemnly swore at least five times to " and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

"Defend the constitution?" you may ask. Exactly how does a chaplain defend the constitution when the Geneva Convention prohibits him from carrying a gun?

I find the answer in the constitutional amendment that kicked off this whole Land-of-the-Free stuff. It's numeral 1 - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

"Yes, sergeant," my commander promised. "We will help you find a place, a conference room perhaps, or a large office. We want you to be safe."

In our next staff meeting, Hartwell elicited suggestions from his 20-person chapel staff regarding a place for the Wiccans. He made it clear that if we exclude room for any faith, we exclude room for all faiths.

"Had Hartwell been bewitched?" you ask. Why stand with those whose faith practice is so drastically different than ours? Because at the end of the day if we refuse to stand with them, we will most surely stand alone in future days.

By the way, our chaplains came up with an easy solution for the Wiccans. We found an understanding commander who allowed the group to meet inside his conference room during off-duty hours.

Simple solution. No magic to it. 

Contact Norris at or @chaplain on Twitter, or (843) 608-9715.


Executive Director  Notes

I am pretty much recovered from the jet lag that from my return from Malaysia and Singapore, and I have been impressed by the emails I received from some of you who are currently on the Malay peninsula, or who have been stationed there previously. I found them insightful, reflective and in a couple of cases, tips for a couple of places to visit. Thank you for those responses.

First for today's column is a status update about Veterans and Military Friendly Congregations (VMFC) that we have been working on for the past couple of years. Thanks to a 20 minute conference call at the May National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, the energy on this has been re-ignited and I believe that by next week's column you will be able to be referred to a much more dynamic and current website for it, with more resources for congregations who want to participate. This has been a collaborative effort between MCA, Vet to Vet Tennessee and the Brotherhood of St Andrew, an organization for lay men of the Episcopal Church. More to follow next week.

Second, I got an email yesterday from the United States Army Chaplaincy Corps Regimental Association (USACCRA) letting me know that registration is now open for that conference from 7 to 10 November at the Arlington Sheraton Hotel near the Air Force Memorial. This is important to all of us as we are having our National Institute at the first part of that week in the same hotel, from 5 to 7 November. As we get closer we'll have more details to share with you, and those will be discussed at the upcoming August NEC at the Ft. Jackson NCO Club. For those who would like more information on the USACCRA conference, that can be found on the website at

Finally, our Newsgram is being published today on Independence Day. As is so often these days, there will be many stores pitching "4th of July Sales" and the like, as well as some folks using it as a reminder that Summer is half over. My reflection from my time in uniform is that today is about the birthing process of the Nation, and as such, was never a "done deal" until it was, in fact, done. For those of you are close to Philadelphia, I would recommend a visit to the newly opened Museum of the American Revolution. I have not yet been there, however that is definitely in my list of places to visit since I am something of a history nut. It is in the vicinity of Independence Mall, and the setting is certainly appropriate. The website for the museum is I anticipate visiting when I am back at Ft. Dix for a 99th Division event the first weekend of August. However, for anyone who can make it this week, it would seem especially meaningful, and to my knowledge the only things marketed in Independence Mall is the story of how we became a nation.

Fr. Razz Waff, DMin, BCC

A Senior Chaplain's Reflection
Independence Day 2018

WASHINGTON - Instances of politically motivated harassment and bullying are dominating headlines these days, causing many to ask - are we losing civility in our country?

Senate Chaplain Barry Black thinks, sadly, we are.

"When, because of political differences, people can't with their families enjoy the freedoms that this nation provides, we've got a serious problem," says Black.

"A lot of incivility has to do with arrogance, swagger, trash talking," said Black. "I think it's critically important that we lower the decibels. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A soft answer turns away anger", and we obey the Golden Rule, Matthew 7:12: "Treat others like you want to be treated."

Black says this rough and tumble world provides Christians a real opportunity.

"I think Christians should be leading the charge in returning to civility by practicing what we teach and preach," explains Black. "Many times we have the rhetoric, but our actions will not back up the rhetoric."

Black says he witnesses that leadership in a bipartisan group of 25-30 senators who attend his weekly Bible study.

"One senator said it's very difficult to pray for one another and then to leave the prayer breakfast and go up to the chamber and verbally stab that person whose hand you've just been holding," recounted Black. "We end the prayer breakfast joined hands praying."

He adds that Americans would be surprised to know how much prayer happens daily inside the Capitol.  

"There are many, many lawmakers who are modeling civility," says Black. "The challenge is that the legislative process by its very nature is adversarial."

He reminds citizens of the power in praying for wisdom for all our leaders.
"One of the things we fail to do as citizens that would be very powerful is to pray more for our leaders," claims Black. "The problems that we face require supernatural wisdom, we're not smart enough to solve many of our problems without divine guidance."

And when asked about how to return to civility, Black turns to God's promise in the Bible.

"I think our citizens need to remember 2 Chronicles 7:14, and this is a promise that God will supernaturally bring healing to our nation, and that means all the branches of our government, and healing means greater civility," explained Black. "Whether the branches want healing or not, God says if My folk will do those things, they will bring healing to our nation."

Charles Keck's bronze effigy of the Soldier-priest, he depicts Duffy, nearly eight feet tall, in military garb and bible in hand. The statue is set on a pedestal backed by a green granite Celtic cross, more than 17 feet tall.

Lest We Forget

Editor's Note: There is still time to submit articles for our MCA Magazine dedicated to Chaplains in World War 1 - please send them now

Two Articles of Interest on World War 1 Chaplains and their ministry remembered

NEW YORK - Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York joined the National Guard's top chaplain in Times Square on Wednesday, June 27, to salute the Army's most famous chaplain: New York National Guard Lt. Col. Francis P. Duffy.

 Dolan and Chaplain (Brig. Gen.) Kenneth "Ed" Brandt, who also serves as one of the Army's Deputy Chief of Chaplains, marked the anniversary of Duffy's death on June 26, 1932, by laying a wreath at the memorial to Father Duffy erected in Times Square in 1937.

Duffy, a member of the New York National Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment, was famed as leader and counselor to the Irish-Americans who served in the unit during World War I. He was also known for his good works at home.

When he died an estimated 50,000 New Yorkers lined the funeral precession route from St. Patrick's Cathedral to his burial site in the Bronx.

"Father Duffy was one of those chaplains who allowed his ministry to follow the Soldiers," Brandt said. "In true chaplain fashion he cared about the person more than the ideology. Father Duffy served all, regardless of religion, seeing each person as a child of God."

A HEROIC British Army chaplain known as 'Woodbine Willie', the former curate of St Andrew's Church in Rugby, returned home from the Great War "without a penny to his name" after spending his entire wartime wages on cigarettes for sick and injured troops, new research has revealed.

The Reverend Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy - also known as the 'Battlefield Saint' - sent the equivalent of more than £43,000 up in smoke on nearly a million Woodbines - strong, unfiltered cigarettes - for the Allied forces, historians now believe.

Historians have long known that Studdert Kennedy, who came to Rugby as a curate in 1908, 'administered' his own cigarettes to men on the frontline to boost morale.

Records also show that he regularly ventured unarmed into No Man's Land, often under heavy machine gun and artillery fire, to give dying troops one final "gasper".

Clutching his Bible for protection, the Battlefield Saint would whisper the Lord's Prayer and hold their hands until the end.

His selfless bravery, particularly at the Battle of Messines, earned him a Military Cross from King George V and the affectionate nickname 'Woodbine Willie'.

The Military Chaplains Magazine
2018 Themes and Submission Deadlines
Fall Issue - Religious Accommodation in 2018
Articles to be submitted by September 30
Publication September 24
Winter Issue - Chaplaincy and Religion in a Post-Truth World
Articles to be submitted by November 30
Publication December 21

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