Sunday, October 26, 2014

Episcopal Visit to Ferlong Federal Correctional Institution and Camp Pendleton

Today, Saturday the 25th of October, I am on my way back to D.C. after a couple of very productive visits with our Episcopal chaplains who are serving in the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries. Early in the week I conducted my first visit with Chaplain Chris Waweru at the Federal Correctional Institution Herlong in Herlong, CA. After a number of years as an Army chaplain (active service), Chris transitioned to become a Bureau of Prisons chaplain. The nearest airport to FCI Herlong is the Reno-Tahoe airport from which is about a one-hour drive away. FCI Herlong is a relatively new medium security prison for males that currently houses about 1600 residents. After a warm welcome form Warden Rafael Zuniga and his Executive Assistant Chris Ulrich, I was taken on a 1 1/2 hour tour of the facility. Perhaps most impressive to me was the fact of Chris' connectivity with both staff and inmates. In little over three months she has adapted to this environment and has found her niche in the unique role in the BOP as both a chaplain and a corrections officer, normal for all BOP chaplains. Later in the day we celebrated Eucharist with Confirmation in the prison chapel. With over 75 residents in attendance, we confirmed two men and renewed the Baptismal vows of all. After a full day with Chris and the staff I drove back to Reno to get organized for a next morning flight to San Diego. The day following my arrival in San Diego early in the morning I got back on the road driving north up to Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base to spend the day with Chaplain Hal Carter. Hal is in his first tour of active duty as a Navy chaplain and serves as a battalion chaplain with Marines. Prior to this Hal had been the Assistant to Rector at the Church of the Advent, Spartanburg, SC. Hal and I spent most of the day walking the vast area where his Marines, all members of a Combat Engineering Battalion, did their work. As with Chris, Hal knew his people, and his people knew him. The professional transformation from being a parish priest to becoming a Navy chaplain with Marines is, to say the least, significant and demanding. Yet, Hal is making this transition in grand style. After a noonday cookout with all the 1st Marine Division chaplains and Religious Program Specialists, we concluded our visit with Hal's battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Smith, USMC. From both Hal and LtCol Smith I learned how difficult it has been for this battalion, which recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, to adjust to the necessary routines of garrison life after being involved in such day-in-day-out taskings as clearing explosive ordinance from the roads Marines and their vehicles would travel. Hal's commanding officer quite honestly and lucidly made me aware of how easy it would be for him to become overcome by the administrative demands of garrison life inside the headquarters building and fail to do the important work of being in the shops and field with his Marines. That is a great lesson for commanders and chaplains alike. Since both of these splendid chaplains were in the midst of an initial assignment with their respective organizations, I am clearly aware that this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for learning. Knowing that the primary focus of my ministry is to aid the chaplains of this episcopacy in their pursuit of success, during the 4+ years I have been engaged in this ministry I have learned that it is of utmost importance for the bishop to show up and be physically present with the chaplain within the first six months after having reported aboard for the first assignment. As was borne out in each of these visits, the chaplain and the bishop can accomplish much in a relatively limited period of time. For example, though I am aware that Chris and Hal were very well prepared for their respective positions, no amount of classroom preparation could fully prepare them for the rigorous demands and expectations of the actual ministry environment in which they serve. Such ministry environments make up an excellent cauldron for learning and sharpening skills. I try to always be aware of how fortunate I am to be able to be with you as you learn and sharpen. +Jay

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