Delores Stanley, Divinity
Maj. Delores Stanley, U.S. Air Force
Major, U.S. Air Force
Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland
In the post-9/11 world, extraordinary circumstances are daily fare for military chaplains. For Delores Stanley, a major in the U.S. Air Force who will graduate this May from Regent's School of Divinity , these circumstances have included everything from serving as chaplain to the Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron to ministering to wounded airmen returning from Iraq. "The Thunderbirds met every morning," she says, "and called on me for words of encouragement and prayer."
At Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the calls for prayer came at all hours—from a different sort of hero. "One night, when I was asked to go out to meet the wounded," she remembers, "the colonel warned me it was going to be ugly. I'd done hospital visits, funerals—but when I got there, I had to take a deep breath. There were all these cots, one on top of another. There were 40 wounded that night—some with broken bones or bullet wounds, some unconscious, one they thought was surely going to die."
Stanley talked to them all, prayed with them all—or just listened to them without words. "I was there to encourage them," she says, "but they touched me so profoundly." And she was there to help them any way she could. She recalls it took six people to carry each cot to the bus that would transport them to hospitals: "I asked the colonel if I could help carry them. I couldn't just pray and leave. Afterwards, I went back to my car and wept. Those soldiers blessed me."
For a congregational pastor or priest, ministry is generally the spiritual care of a community of people of a specific faith tradition—leading them in regular worship and through life-cycle events. The role of a chaplain, in contrast, is to minister to people of all religious beliefs and affiliations, often in extraordinary circumstances. Whether it be in a hospital or hospice setting, a school, a prison, a mental institution, or even a parliamentary assembly, the chaplain's role is a ministry of presence, where the needs of the other can be at odds with the chaplain's own beliefs. Stanley explains that the faith traditions of today's military men and women range from mainstream Christianity to Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Wicca—she's even encountered Satanists and atheists. "The military doesn't discriminate," Stanley says, "and neither do chaplains. I don't have to agree with them to minister to them."
She recounts the story of an avowed atheist who came to her office seeking counseling for marital problems. "These people just need someone to listen to them," Stanley says. "I told him I respected him, but I asked him if I could pray to my God for him. And he said, 'Yes.'" Stanley concedes that as a Christian, it can be difficult not to pray in Jesus' name, but she says, "As chaplains, we have to be sensitive to all beliefs. It took me some time to get there."
Article written by Bobbie Fisher