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U.S. Army suspends Church of Christ service at Fort Sill in Oklahoma (Updated)

Update: Church of Christ service reinstated at Fort Sill

For 35 years, the Northwest Church of Christ in Lawton, Okla., conducted a weekly assembly for soldiers at Fort Sill, church leaders say.
But just before Christmas, the U.S. Army post’s chaplain suspended the services, “taking away the religious freedom of our soldiers,” said Northwest member Don Cherry, who had led the ministry for 10 years.
“The Armed Forces Chaplain Board (AFCB) has mistakenly categorized the Churches of Christ as a Protestant denomination,” Cherry said in an e-mail to The Christian Chronicle. “By lumping us with Protestants, the Army may utilize chaplains of Protestant denominations to conduct our services. We consider ourselves as a ‘distinctive faith group.'”
In general, Churches of Christ believe in simple, Bible-based Christianity. Congregations in the loose-knit fellowship of 12,447 congregations and 1.6 million adherents nationwide are autonomous with no denominational hierarchy or headquarters.
Cherry said the services averaged about 80 soldiers and two baptisms every Sunday. The assemblies tended to the soldiers’ spiritual needs, he said, with singing, communion and gospel preaching. The soldiers are “trainees unable to leave the post for worship,” he said.
“Usually, 40 percent of the folks attending would already be members of the church, but we had many who showed up seeking the truth,” Cherry said. “The drill sergeants were even amazed when they would bring over a couple of troops and the number would grow every week.”
Johnny Sandmann, military and veterans affair caseworker for U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, contacted the Army on the church’s behalf.
In a letter to Sandmann, U.S. Army Col. Paul Hossenlopp defended suspending the Church of Christ assembly after three-plus decades. Garrison Commander Hossenlopp wrote:

Army Regulation 165-1 governs who may conduct services on military installations. The Department of the Army preference is for Army Chaplains to provide religious services to our Soldiers. This allows Soldiers to bond with the religious leader who will be with their unit while deployed, and who has a special relationship to their command. However, when there is a need for services that the assigned Army chaplains cannot meet, civilians may volunteer to provide those services as Distinctive Faith Group Leaders (DFGL).
Army regulation requires that civilians wishing to act as a DFGL submit a request for approval through the installation chaplain to the Armed Forces Chaplain Board (AFCB). The AFCB requires that the potential DFGL document the need for the requested distinctive faith group service. Thus, only if Soldiers request a service that Army chaplains could not provide would the installation chaplains be able to support a request for designation as a DFGL. In this case, there has not been a request from any Soldier for a distinctive faith group service that is not currently being met. Services for different faiths are provided across the installation.

Cherry said the Army never mentioned the need for soldier requests:

The gist of the letter seemed to be that they had no requests for a Church of Christ service and that was why we were removed! I was dumbfounded. In November, had I been asked for requests from trainees I could have had 80 a week. Now this colonel said there were no requests for us.

On its website, the Northwest church has posted a plea for the services to resume.

  • Feedback
    Keep trying to do what we have too. We know things have changed, not for the good. But keep trying.
    April, 15 2013
    The chaplain at Fort Sill is creating controversy where none exists. The church has acted correctly by contacting their local Congressman. Tom Cole is paid to represent his constituents to the Dept. of Defense, I am glad to see he is doing his job.
    Jason Goldtrap
    April, 15 2013
    Soldiers in the group should try filing a Department of the Army (DA) level Inspector General (IG) complaint, citing refusal to support freedom of religion naming the Garrison Commander and Post Chaplain as the subject.
    April, 15 2013
    You should ask why it was suspended. I am pretty sure no one was trying to curtail religious freedom. There could have a disagree my between the base and the church. It could have been that they are tightening security. As a veteran, I can tell you we ALWAYS had access to religious services. Even in boot camp and in a war zone.
    Melissa Gendron Van Horn
    April, 15 2013
    I attended this service while stationed at Ft Sill back in 2002. But it was the only military base I was ever stationed at which had a C of C service, so this isn’t shocking. Was honestly surprised they had it when I was stationed there, because usually the chaplain has to be able to perform whatever services are needed. That’s a huge part of his job in the military.
    Seth Simmons
    April, 15 2013
    Praying that God will move hearts.
    Dale Lloyd Isom
    April, 15 2013
    The church is viewed as nothing more than another Protestant denomination in the military’s eyes. My husband served as a lay leader for several years, conducting cofC worship services on base in Germany. The chaplaincy did not make things easy for us, and we eventually had to stop meeting to avoid compromising doctrinal integrity. As far as the military is concerned, if they provide a service deemed (by the chaplain) to be nondenominational, no other services need to be provided. My son was one who enjoyed the availability of the worship services on Fort Will while in basic training, as they are not allowed to leave the base at all until graduation. I’m sad to see this decision being made, but not surprised.
    Kris Harker
    April, 15 2013
    There has been and is an ever growing restricting and infringing upon our Christian liberties. Keep up your efforts to restore religious liberty for those who desire to attend Church of Christ assemblies. Just a note: A chaplain of denominational church may have a bias toward another Christian faith and may exercise discrimination against those that are historically neither Protestant or of the Roman Catholic faith. This would seem to be close to the “Establishment Clause”by the Military officials (Federal Government). God bless your efforts. My prayers are with you.
    In Him,
    Mark Powell, Director
    Christian Military Fellowship
    – a Christian only –
    Mark Powell
    April, 15 2013
    35 years and now make a change?????? I agree with Jason.
    Cindy Batie
    April, 15 2013
    When I was TDY I put in a request for the church of christ to come to the post chapel. If you are a member, all post will not have the church..simply request it and they will work it out 🙂 It’s okay..just get a soldier to request it 🙂
    April, 15 2013
    I have also been to a lot of post/bases and have never seen coc listed. I do recall at Jackson it was on the list but it was removed due to soldiers having issues with the use of piano vs not using it. They make it hard for some of us coc members in the military to leave duty/training. Especially if you are a minority they think you are lying, baptist, ect…and let the Catholic/Jewish people go freely…sighs…I have had some good experiences and have had some tough ones…God will prevail…keep praying!
    April, 15 2013
    Well, “So Much” for freedom of religion!!!!!
    David F. Shaner
    April, 15 2013
    Unfortunately, the same thing happens in our jails/prisons all of the time. The chaplain might be upset at a particular group and come up with all kinds of reasons why that group cannot meet. Chaplains have a lot of power in the military and prison systems. They should be required to remain neutral. I’m so sorry that this has happened to these brothers and sisters. My prayer is that this will be overturned and the church will be able to be recognized.
    Michael B. Wood
    April, 15 2013
    We have had that same issue in the prisons. Ultimately, what distingishes the church of Christ as a DFGL is our need to take communion every Sunday. That is not offered in Protestant services.
    Gary Wyder
    April, 15 2013
    My prayer is that the Church of Christ will be allowed the opportunity to make this request and prove we are not like other denominations now that we are aware a distinction and a request was needed so that services will resume very soon. I find the whole invasion of freedom of choice horrific for American soldiers.
    janice beeler
    April, 15 2013
    The Army’s rationale doesn’t ring true. If a particular service has been offered for over 3 decades, there would be no need for the servicemember to request it.
    When I went through Navy boot camp in Orlando in 1980, there was a chapel service designated “Protestant – non-instrumental”, and it turned out to be led by one of the elders at the Concord Street Church of Christ, Chuck Lipford, a retired Naval Officer.
    James Covington
    April, 15 2013
    Gary has it right. My father was involved in the Church of Christ services at Ft. Jackson until his death and had to go through the usual amount of bureaucracy to get services started on post (another basic training post) and to continue them. It’s important to make clear that weekly communion is a basic tenet of our faith that is not met by the general Protestant service. It shouldn’t be difficult to get several recruits to request CofC services (yes, it’s paperwork, but consider it your Romans 13 exercise of the day). I’m involved in prison ministry at a Federal facility and we had to go through a similar exercise in the beginning.
    One important factor (and I cannot express this strongly enough) is the relationship with the chaplain. Like it or not, the chaplains have responsibility and accountability for religious activities on post (and in prison). They are the gatekeepers, and it’s always good to maintain good (at least cordial) relations with them. Above all: it is not our job to convert them, but to provide spiritual nurture and guidance to the troops/inmates. A sure fire way of getting kicked out is to try to convert the chaplain or to tell the troops that the chaplain is going to Hell.
    One thing you may want to check is the policy toward proselytizing. In the Federal prison system, religious volunteers (and inmates, for that matter) are not allowed to proselytize (try to persuade someone to change their religion). I don’t know if that’s the case in the military, but it may be worth checking out.
    And, for those who are concerned about how that might affect evangelism, don’t worry. My father played a part in the conversion of many recruits over the years, and the Lord has blessed the ministry in which I’m involved with many baptisms over the years as well. Evangelism is not telling people what’s wrong: it’s telling them what’s right. It’s quite possible to explain what’s right about the Church without explaining what’s wrong about other folks. Whenever someone asks me a question about what another religious group says, I simply point them to the appropriate passage in the Bible. When they say that’s not what they heard, I just say, “You see what the Bible says. That’s all I can go on.” They get the point.
    Robert Floyd
    April, 15 2013
    There are several Distinctive Faith Groups (DFG’s) with the “Church of Christ” label. Which of these groups should the army (translate: U.S. Government) recognize?
    Becky Wooley
    April, 15 2013
    Melissa Gendron Van Horn said: There could have a disagree my between the base and the church. It could have been that they are tightening security.
    Unfortunately Melissa there was no disagreement. In ten years of ministering to the trainees I had never had an opportunity nor need to meet with the Post Chaplain. Then out of the blue, I get word he wanted to visit with me, there was nothing that preceded this meeting.
    As for security back in 2002 and 2003 my car was exhaustively searched every Sunday morning when I entered the post. They looked in my trunk, my glove box,my armrest, under the car and sometimes had a dog sniff it out. The security the last few years was very relaxed.
    I can not tell you why the chaplain in question did what he did but he gave me many different reasons, all of them proved to be untrue. The bottom line is, what he did was his own decision. why he chose this I do not know I only hope he had no malice towards us.
    I ask that you all pray for this endeavor
    Don Cherry
    Don Cherry
    April, 15 2013
    It’s really sad. We need pray for that situation, God can open the heart of this man.
    Alexander Castellanos
    April, 15 2013
    To brother Don Cherry: “And if I say I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and cannot contain.” Jer. 20:9 (ASB) Pray! And I pray with you.
    A. C. Oliver
    April, 15 2013
    This move might be linked to the repeal of DADT and DOMA. Army leaders know that the Church of Christ will NEVER agree with gay marriage. They would rather ban them than have to hear complaints from Soldiers and family members.
    April, 15 2013
    Both Fort Jackson and Leonardwood have had cofc services in the past, so it’s not just a Fort Sill thing. It is a distinctive faith group as far as the DOD is concerned, and different enough that allows for a separate service, provided leadership is available, which it sounds like there is. Likely, the sponsoring chaplain forgot to file the required paperwork this time. No paperwork, no service. The one thing the army is good at is covering itself.
    Dustin Crawford
    April, 15 2013
    Why not simply follow the required protocol? If being labeled a “protestant” group gets it approved, there is nothing wrong with having to use that category. Most religious literature would classify Churches of Christ as a Protestant group anyway. If a soldier or soldiers have to make the request, then why not follow that policy?
    A kind and respectful approach in a discussion with the military authorities is the right way, politely explaining the need for the service and the numbers involved that benefit from your service.
    Should it appear that the church is being discriminated against by allowing other churches to have these services and not allowing you, there is a legal recourse explained above.
    What you might be experiencing is the type of discrimination commonly felt by minorities – religious, racial/ethnic, political, etc. Maybe you will learn what it is like to be considered a “minority,” and will demand your rights under the law.
    Thank God for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the greatest part of any constitution ever devised by humankind, given to us by those “dreaded” liberals.
    Wayman Johnson
    April, 15 2013
    I read the article on the church website and wish they’d try to solve this problem without “going over (the chaplains) head”. I think it’s understandable that leaders in other groups and chaplains would have a negative view of Churches of Christ due to our apart-ness. The way this matter is addressed can feed that negativity, or help overcome it. We should find ways truly to share the common ground we have with other believers….and we’d have a greater expectation for respect when it comes to our distinctives. I wish we could provide useful, scriptural resources for ALL chaplains! But those are knee-jerk (maybe capital J) reactions. I pray for wisdom for those directly involved—and that our military personnel will get the scriptural, spiritual support they need!
    J P
    April, 15 2013
    While we supported a congregation of Marines in Fallujah, Iraq, I learned that the Commander of the Marine Corps unit stationed there, and the chief Chaplain, wanted to close the services. At that time there were 9 groups meeting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    While I was stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA, and also Ft Harrison, IN, there were no COC services that I could find. And when I requested communion, the protestant chaplain was totally befuddled, even after I explained it to him. We need to make sure that our kids and their parents are involved. Yes, there are some bases that do have active congregations. Unfortunately, except for MCRD San Diego, they are run by “protestant chaplains”, not by members of the church.
    I was thrilled to see hear about the services at MCRD S.D., CA. There an elder of the local congregation was present, but the boys were encouraged to run the services themselves. I had 2 sons that went through MCRD SD, and know of at least 4 other young men that I know who attended the services on base.
    Paul Johnson
    April, 15 2013
    Dustin Crawford said:
    Likely, the sponsoring chaplain forgot to file the required paperwork this time. No paperwork, no service. The one thing the army is good at is covering itself.
    Dustin, paper work was not an issue.
    Don Cherry
    April, 15 2013
    Wayman Johnson said:
    Why not simply follow the required protocol? If being labeled a €protestant€ group gets it approved, there is nothing wrong with having to use that category. Most religious literature would classify Churches of Christ as a Protestant group anyway. If a soldier or soldiers have to make the request, then why not follow that policy?
    That was the problem we are being grouped in the with the Protestants, by the Armed forces Chaplains Board, and the Post chaplain said he had plenty of Protestant Chaplains so they didnt need us. We are not Protestants and so Protestant Chaplains would not be able to fill the need.
    Don Cherry
    April, 15 2013
    J P said:
    I read the article on the church website and wish they€d try to solve this problem without €going over (the chaplains) head€
    JP after two meetings with the Post Chaplain, we had no other choice he would not budge.
    Don Cherry
    April, 15 2013
    I do not know why the Chaplain would do this unless it is about saving money and of course the old anti church of Christ thingy “They think the’re the only ones going to heaven”. I attended church of Christ services in San Diego when I went through US Navy Boot Camp. There was an elderly man there that had been in the service for many years and the guys just realted to him. There were a couple of others from my unit that attended with me and another guy that was looking for the truth, he was so dissapointed with the Oprah/Readers Digest kind of service that was provided and ate up what we had to offer. We studied together when we could, but I do not know what happened to him after Boot Camp. Had not thought about him for a long time. I will be praying about this and hope that those in power will see the light. When leaders get together and boo God publicly and are so proud of themselves for doing so they need more than prayer; they need a wakeup call in the worse way.
    Bill Hughes
    April, 15 2013
    Don, you’re doing a great job fielding people’s questions and concerns. Thank you for your work with this ministry. I hope our Ft. Sill soldiers will soon be able to worship according to the scriptures once again. Praying for this endeavor. It has born so much fruit over the years, and it will be devastating if it is about down permanently.
    Kayla Fugitt
    April, 15 2013
    I know you said in at least one response that paperwork was not the issue. You also said that you were never informed of the requirement for a soldier request.
    First, if paperwork is not an issue, then why not just submit it and remove the objection from the chaplain? Robert Floyd’s comment was on the mark here.
    Second, it is never the Government entity’s responsibility to inform someone requesting access how to receive that access (according to general policy). This responsibility belongs to the one who would gain access. Ignorance is a poor defense, brother. Get a copy of the Military codes and follow them so that you may be held blameless. Claiming ignorance is accepting blame, not an excuse from it. Now that you know, submit the forms.
    I am a pacifist by conviction, but even I would submit to a regulation as easily complied with as this one. I am not a fan of national military participation. Still, I am concerned over every soul, so I put aside my personal views as and whenever needed in order to serve more. Jesus died for soldiers, too. And I appreciate your years of service. So why is this an issue for you? Is it asking more of you than you are willing to do for these men? Do you feel entitled to access which is denied others just because you “never had to do this before”??? Show some grit, brother. This should not be a PR battle. This is an opportunity to submit in order to serve. What would Jesus do?
    April, 15 2013
    Thanks, Don, for trying to explain this terrible situation! Can people read some of the previous things happening in the military by going to Todd Starnes, who is keeping up with decisions affecting the military and religion! It might shock some to know there is an effort to shut some religions down. This may be evidence of intolerance of religious differences. Chaplains have a job and they are not trained by people in the church. They are often trained online and many “religious” people do not have any qualms about being grouped as “protestant”or anything else. If we truly believe the Bible is right, there are certain distinctions we must make. If we don’t stand up to help each other worship as we see God desires us to do, who will speak for us when we are unable to speak?! Freedom of religion is at stake! It has been for years, but many do not want to believe this. It is absolutely true! I saw this with people even in the 70’s who did not believe I should have the right to believe as God said by not allowing women to be leaders in the church. They were perfectly willing to tell me I had no right to believe that. Imagine how much more intolerant people are now. We must obey God rather than man. That means we must provide as many ways possible for those who need to know what God wants us to do to please him. This is only one effort, but a very important one! Keep up the good work trying to get this changed!
    Cheryl Ginnings
    April, 15 2013
    Grizz said: First, if paperwork is not an issue, then why not just submit it and remove the objection from the chaplain? Robert Floyd€s comment was on the mark here.
    As I stated before Grizz, paperwork was not an issue, I personally had this qualification for ten years. There was no lapse and the post chaplain will not approve it again.
    Grizz said: Second, it is never the Government entity€s responsibility to inform someone requesting access how to receive that access (according to general policy). This responsibility belongs to the one who would gain access. Ignorance is a poor defense, brother. Get a copy of the Military codes and follow them so that you may be held blameless. Claiming ignorance is accepting blame, not an excuse from it. Now that you know, submit the forms.
    We have had this ministry for over 36 years and never, let me repeat never, has this come up. In my ten years serving it has this arisen, but it isnt even the reason they have used to finally deny us. Now there is virtually no way to get these requests as no one but the Drill Sergeant has access to these soldiers.
    Grizz said: So why is this an issue for you? Is it asking more of you than you are willing to do for these men? Do you feel entitled to access which is denied others just because you €never had to do this before€??? Show some grit, brother. This should not be a PR battle. This is an opportunity to submit in order to serve. What would Jesus do?
    It is an issue since for no reason they have decided to kill something that has existed and prospered for over 36 years. Show some grit? Come walk in my shoes, it should not be a PR battle but the only avenue we have left is the public. If you are a pacifist and choose not to participate I will understand.
    Don Cherry
    April, 15 2013
    May I add a few comments? On some posts, there are services with weekly communion. They are listed as “liturgical” services, however, they usually also have instrumental music. When you combine non-instrumental, weekly communion, and male-led, you come to a grouping not seen on a military facility outside a DFG. My husband, a National Guard Chaplain, recently came off six and a half years of mobilization. He was at several posts – some had COC DFGs and some did not. Some were stateside and some were in combat zones. This is not the first installation to cut DFGs, but with effort (and perhaps the eventual change in command), the group should be re-instated. Keep praying.
    April, 15 2013
    well lm sorry we have been suspended but l believe that God will find avenue for those faith to worship him and also touch the heart of the commander to reconsider his decision to bring back church of Christ to the Army facility, let us continue praying to God to listen to our prayers then show mercy to all our request thanks
    Francis Nyamadi
    April, 15 2013
    I served as an Air Force chaplain for 10 years. At my first base, the head chaplain kicked the leader of a Christian group (the Navigators)off base. The leader was active in supporting the base chapel, and over half of the Sunday School teachers were in his group. His only reason for doing so was that they were conservative Christians who believed the Bible. Our attendance and offerings were cut in half, and we had to disband our Sunday School for lack of teachers. The head chaplain was proud of this result: he did not want these “Bible-bangers” on his base.
    If this is the kind of Post Chaplain you have, there is likely little you can do to change his mind, and no amount of paper-work will be sufficient. However, there are always ways to “work around” a problem. At this base, the group leader got a part time job on base, which restored his base access. It is good to have access that is not totally dependent upon the post chaplain.
    This should also serve as a warning to all congregations that are trying to do something on a military installation. It pays to try to develop relationships with the chaplains. Going 10 years without meeting with the post chaplain does not help you. If you get to know ALL the chaplains individually, you may find one “Bible-banger” on the staff who is willing to help you, even if the head chaplain is not so inclined. If you show up for chapel events, volunteer to help with chapel events, and show yourself to be a part of the “team”, you are less likely to be dumped. And if you are dumped, you then have an argument to the people above the Post Chaplain about how your “dumping” will negatively affect the chapel program. In the case noted above, our higher level chaplains noticed the drop in participation, and sent in an inspection team. When they found out what happened, the head chaplain was reassigned to a place where he would never be a head chaplain again. But if you can’t show any positive impact in the whole chapel program, you won’t be able to show an negative impact at being kicked off-base.
    Mark Bell
    April, 15 2013
    Isn’t it comforting to know that God is not confined to paper work, who is what brand, etc?
    I seriously doubt that the good coc folks are the only ones preaching Christ to the people on base. I know you want to be there and I would like for you to be there but you will not get there by insisting that the coc is not a denomination and thereby deserves different treatment.
    Royce Ogle
    April, 15 2013
    I do not know what your experience in studying religion is, however I have spent 35+ years looking at ALL religions I have heard of. I was not brought up “in the church”, rather I was brought up in an atheist/agnostic home, that I was able to escape when I was 17.
    In addition I was not converted because it was the first group that tried to teach me anything, although the Youth Group that I found when I first attended college was the first place I found unconditional love.
    Without a doubt, the reason many, not all, military leadership and head chaplains attack the coC is just that! They do not accept what the Bible teaches, only what they were taught growing up, or what their denominational hierarchy teaches. Before you disagree with that, go to a USMC Boot Camp Graduation and look at the special treatment they get each week.
    As someone who looked into military chaplaincy, as well as Prison, Police, Fire Dept., etc., it is obvious that only those with a base in the “main stream denominations” (those stemming from Catholicism, Luther’s Reformation, or the Protestant history), Judaism, Islam, or the and cults (Mormonism being chief) that are extremely vocal receive requested support. I did serve in the office of Chaplain for the American Legion for over 7 years, stopping only due to health.
    Those who trace their faith to the Restoration movement (return to New Testament teachings, not just modify Catholicism) and does not have any “national leadership” have frequently been condemned in the present military leadership. The fact that the coC, doC, and CC are VERY strong in OK makes this current attack on our faith even more disturbing. The head Chaplain at Ft. Sill had to have the support of the Base Commander. When I first heard of this kind of assault, I thought it was very localized to a specific Marine unit. I now see that is not the case.
    Paul Johnson
    April, 15 2013
    Paul Johnson, Our eldest son also went through MCRD SD and he was very involved, leading singing, even offering the message a few times. . . . we are so thankful for that! He took some of the other recruits with him to church many times. . . I will be praying with you all that this is resolved. Our eldest daughter just completed basic training at Ft. Jackson and she was able most Sundays to attend cofc services. She said once she was taken to Protestant services. . . nothing like what she was expecting! Very eye-opening for her.
    April, 15 2013
    Hi Brethren,
    1. We will be praying for you until God moves this mountian.
    2. As we are praying try go and find out exactly what is it that they want. I know they may not have used such rules for the past 35 year, but times have changed. People may be going to such sensitive places in the name of religious groups while they are trying to find sensitive information about the Army.
    God will fight for us
    Pious Chavula
    April, 16 2013
    Mark Bell said: It pays to try to develop relationships with the chaplains. Going 10 years without meeting with the post chaplain does not help you.
    There were four chaplains at the chapel where we had the worship service, I had a great relationship with them, as with my liaison Chaplain. They all expressed great regret at out removal. As for the Post Chaplain, he had been there three months when he removed us, he wasted no time in removing us, he did not want us there, it is plain. we met with him twice and he would not be moved.
    As for the “chapel events”, this is a training base, the only chapel event is Sunday worship. There is no access to the trainees, they are controlled.
    As for a part time job on post, I am a self employed small businessman, dont havr time for a job on post.
    Don Cherry
    April, 16 2013
    Both my sons went through MCRD SD, one graduating Jan 2010, the other Sept 2011. We went through AMEN Program, then out of White’s Ferry Road, and made sure he had contact with the congregation that oversees the work there. When G (our oldest) graduated, we went to worship there and got to meet the elders that oversaw the program.
    When M (youngest) went through, his first Sunday had about 40 people from his Company! The elder that was head of it told us that the boys were as close on Week 3 as the graduation group usually is. Needless to say this was exciting, especially when we heard about all the boys leading singing, giving a “lesson”, praying, and just encouraging each other.
    When he attended his MOS school at Camp Johnson (next to Lejeune)there was no services for the coC at the base. Fortunately he was able to get with the Congregation that served most of the Marines at Lejeune/Johnson. He hopes to eventually get re-assigned there because of the relationships he developed.
    As for now, both sons are at Pendleton, but I am not sure where they worship. Given what they have both said, they are not thrilled with base services. If your son is still in, I pray he be safe, and that the example he shows make a difference.
    Don, as you already know, the biggest problem with those in Basic/Boot Camp, and often their initial MOS training, they cannot get off base for any reason, and even at MOS training (USMC for certain) they do not/cannot have a POV to get off base.
    Most of our guys overseas have to meet privately, and get no support for getting together. I have sent over communion supplies during the war in Iraq, but for security it is harder to find that information now.
    God bless the USA, and bring our warriors home safe and sound.
    Paul Johnson
    April, 16 2013
    Royce, with respect, insisting the Church of Christ is not a Protestant denomination and has unique practices is the only way that we can maintain a presence in institutions such as the military and prisons. Some background: my father started chapel services for recruits at Fort Jackson in the 80s and continued until his death (and I know he’s pleased that the services are continuing). I’ve been involved at a Federal prison in North Carolina for 25+ years. The Federal systems, military and prison, have some unique features that people need to understand in order to minister effectively.
    Importantly, there is a law on the books that requires facilities to accommodate the religious preferences of servicemen and inmates as best they can, without affecting the mission or security. This is why you’ll find services available for Wiccans, Odinists and other groups, as well as the usual suspects. The chaplains at each institution are responsible for maintaining order in religious services as well as supervising all religious volunteers. As you might imagine, this is a formidable task for chaplains, something that just doesn’t exist on the outside. It’s in their best interests to minimize the number of groups that meet, not to inhibit the free practice of religion, but to try to maintain their own sanity.
    One way they do this is to provide what are called General Protestant (GP) services. By providing what most Protestant groups view as required in a worship service, they’re able to meet the religious needs of those groups while still making their facilities available to other religious groups. The only way to guarantee that we’re not lumped in with the GP population is to have religious practices (not beliefs) that are not able to be met in the GP services the chaplains offer. For Churches of Christ, the practices we have that require separate accommodation are noninstrumental music and weekly communion. Of the two, weekly communion is the most important: while chaplains may not be sympathetic to the requirement of a cappella singing, I have yet to meet one that didn’t understand our need for weekly communion (and many privately agree with that).
    My father once had to take the fight all the way to DC to keep chapel services going at Fort Jackson. He had been in the Army for 23 years, so he was aware of the processes and protocols involved. He exhausted the process at Jackson before taking it higher. Ultimately, the Lord blessed his efforts with success, helped, in part, by the church in Arlington, VA, which works with the DOD to ordain Church of Christ chaplains (the military requires those holding services to be ordained ministers; they recognize the Arlington congregation as having the authority to ordain. It’s clearly not part of our tradition, but this is one of those little things we do to render to Caesar).
    The event that triggered my father’s struggle was the arrival of a new post commander and head chaplain who had had bad experiences with Churches of Christ in the past and didn’t take the time to look at what he was doing. in the military, post commanders and head chaplains have a huge amount of influence and power over what happens in the chapel, as is appropriate. Since they’re human, they’re also capable of their own biases and prejudices. Hence, it’s important for those of us who work in that environment to maintain good relationships with them while not compromising our beliefs. This includes respecting their authority, even if we don’t agree with their beliefs.
    So far, we’ve been fortunate that the chaplains at the prison have been supportive, but we’ve also worked hard to maintain good relationships with them. The good news is that chaplains rotate in and out (I have more tenure at Butner than the entire chaplain team combined). If the problem at Fort Still is a chaplain/commander who is hostile to the church, it should only be a matter of time before s/he’s replaced by someone more sympathetic. When that happens, be ready to apply for reinstatement. It will help if there’s a paper trail from recruits who have requested Church of Christ services.
    Robert Floyd
    April, 16 2013
    And one more thought (added separately so the moderators can remove it if it’s too much of a rant):
    Those who haven’t been involved in this sort of ministry have no idea what sort of work and sacrifice is involved. The majority of people who are involved in chapel services on military bases are not being paid for it. They go out every Sunday to minister to young men and women who are away from home for the first time in many cases, are dealing with incredible pressures during the week and, on basic training bases, are not allowed to leave the base for any reason during their training. And after that, they return to their home congregations for morning services. They’re the ones who only get a weekend off when there are no chapel services, because there aren’t enough (or any) people in the congregation who are willing to provide backup.
    I was fortunate enough to go with my father to Ft. Jackson on Sundays when I was back home. Watching him up late preparing lessons that would equip them when they moved on, knowing he had only 13 weeks with each basic training class, I learned how serious what we teach people is. He didn’t have the luxury of spending weeks at a time on theological nuances or nice theoretical what ifs. They needed to know how to live as Christians in a very different world than most of us inhabit. His experience in the military helped, as did his concern for each of them. He was there every Sunday during basic training season (this was after his retirement from the military and while working full time). The only thing that stopped his ministry was the Lord calling him home.
    Most men and women who are involved in this sort of ministry have not been formally trained in it. They’re where they are because God has put it in their hearts (not the sort of language we tend to use, but it’s accurate). They are there because it’s a flame burning in them: they can’t not be there. They might not be the most theologically sophisticated or dynamic speakers, but they’re some of the best missionaries you’ll ever meet and have a perspective on Bible study and discipleship that few do.
    So, Don, consider this experience a bit of R&R until you’re called upon to head out to Ft. Still or wherever the Lord will send you next.
    Robert Floyd
    April, 16 2013
    For Robert Floyd: To your last paragraph (especially), AMEN! That’s why I quoted to… brother Don… Jer. 20:9.
    A. C. Oliver
    April, 16 2013
    I’m very sorry to hear about this. My wife’s father was Bob Rust who was a prisoner of war during World War II and worked at Fort Sill as a mechanic for many years raised his family at the Northwest Church of Christ. My wife of 40 years Vony Esteban (Rust) died a couple of years ago and she has been a Christian Lighthouse for me and my family for many years. I’m sure that both of them are disappointed with this action and will be praying with me for the restoration of this service.
    Jim Esteban
    April, 17 2013
    After reading all the previous comments I felt compelled to add mine. Many of you have made suggestions and even expressed criticisms. I’ve been a member of the Northwest church of Christ for most of the last 36 years. My husband was one of the early “lay leaders” for the Ft. Sill services. I would think that in maintaining the program for 36 years and through the tenure of multiple chaplains the men involved in this ministry know how to navigate the red tape, protocol and army regulations. All the men who have led the services for the trainees at Ft. Sill have been active duty, retirees or former military members. Don Cherry has been doing the work for 10 years as he said. He has also been the most effective with his love for God and for the soldiers being evident. Every avenue through the chain of command has been explored to no avail. Col. Hassenlopp’s reference to Army Regulation 165-1 shows his ignorance of the Ft. Sill situation. The church of Christ services were being held for basic trainees who are only at Ft. Sill for eight weeks. Then they are assigned army-wide in multiple units or to AIT. The chaplains assigned to the training area of Ft. Sill do not follow those trainees to their various assignments. While in basic training these young men and women are not allowed to leave post. Therefore they are being denied the opportunity to worship according to Scripture, which is especially sad for those who are members of the church. New soldiers are young, scared, and ignorant of what they can request and what their rights are. I don’t know what the motives are for the dismissal of our services but it certainly has nothing to do with army regulations.
    Jeanne Stark
    April, 18 2013
    I dont know if anyone is still looking at this, but we will be reconvening a church of Christ services for trainees June 9th
    Don Cherry
    Don Cherry
    May, 31 2013
    Great news! Is there any part of the process of getting that decision over-turned that you can share? There may be some “behind the scenes” activity that is best left there, but there may be parts that others could learn from.
    Mark Bell
    June, 1 2013
    Mark Bell said:
    Great news! Is there any part of the process of getting that decision over-turned that you can share? There may be some €behind the scenes€ activity that is best left there, but there may be parts that others could learn from.
    There will be an apropriate time for that story. After a fullness of time it will be forthcoming.
    Don Cherry
    June, 5 2013
    I completed basic training at Ft. Sill only two years ago. I attended the church of Christ services offered there every Sunday. I don’t know what I’d have done without them! I can attest to the estimate of two baptisms per week, as mentioned in the article above. I have long wanted to thank Don Cherry for his important efforts.
    Al Edwards
    July, 7 2013
    Al Edwards, thank you for your words. It is young people like you and your faith in God that make it all worth while. You know when we pray I thank God for those such as you that help to protect us. Thank you for your service.
    Don Cherry
    July, 25 2013

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