First SBC chaplain named as Army’s deputy chief of chaplains
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (BP)--As Chaplain Douglas Carver walked the halls of the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Ft. Jackson, S.C., one last time as the director, he stopped frequently to say goodbye to fellow chaplains and soldiers.
But when he grasped the hand of Chaplain Major Steven Mark Jones, his face filled with emotion as he felt the weight of a coin pressed into his palm. Jones presented the exiting chaplain with his own personal coin which displays the verse “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11), a fitting tribute to a man who is leaving his current role not for retirement or civilian life, but for his next assignment as deputy chief of chaplains for the United States Army.
It is a job that is the equivalent of an associate pastor to a large congregation, but this mega-church happens to be the entire U.S. Army. Carver was selected for the position by a review committee, promoted to a one star brigadier general and is the first Southern Baptist chaplain to move into the senior office in 50 years, and the first Southern Baptist to hold the position of deputy chief of chaplains. The last chief of chaplains from the Southern Baptist Convention was Chaplain (MG) Ivan L. Bennett from 1952-54.
For Carver, the position isn’t so much about a new assignment, but a continuation of the calling he felt many years ago: to serve God by serving in the military.
Involved in ROTC at the University of Tennessee, a young Doug Carver was commissioned as a field artillery officer in 1973 just as the Vietnam War drew to a close. It was the same year that he married his high school sweetheart Susan, affectionately called Sunny by the family.
Carver grew up in a strong Christian home and was active in church even as a young Army officer. One winter, while accompanying some Royal Ambassadors on their annual retreat, a church deacon asked him a question: What was he going to do with the rest of his life?
“I said, ‘Oh, I’ll probably put 20 to 30 years in the military, get out, and maybe pastor a small church,” Carver recounted. The deacon told him, “Don’t give God the leftovers of your life.”
A DEACON’S ADMONITION
That simple statement forced Carver to examine his priorities, and he started reevaluating. The words to his life verse, Matthew 6:33, stuck with him: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness....” After six years of active duty, Carver left the Army to answer the call to ministry -- a calling that Carver says really began at age 16.
After graduating from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and serving at his first church, Skyway Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., Carver remained active in the reserves. Major General Charles Baldwin, currently the chief of chaplains for the United States Air Force, was the Air Force academy cadet chaplain at the time and asked Carver if he had ever thought about the military chaplaincy.
“He said, ‘The military desperately needs chaplains who love the Lord,” Carver recounted. After much prayer and with support from his wife and the church, he re-joined the military in 1984, commissioned as an active duty chaplain with endorsement by the North American Mission Board.
He sees tremendous importance in the role of chaplains within the military.
“There’s something about your faith being sorted out before you have to go as a soldier into some of the most chaotic or destructive environments on the earth,” Carver said. “I don’t think you can focus on your duties as a soldier without knowing where you stand in the relationship of Almighty God. In my case, as a Christian, it’s about looking into eternal things, even the ravages of war.... [T]here’s something greater that helps you maintain your stability and gives you peace knowing that God is in charge regardless of the confusion and wartime around you.”
Carver said he is comfortable operating in the military’s pluralistic setting and ensuring that all service members have the opportunity to worship the way they want.
“It goes to the old saying, ‘I’d rather see a sermon than hear one,’” Carver said. “We have to be very sensitive when soldiers are forced to stand, it requires great sensitivity and we must be inclusive.”
AROUND THE WORLD
Carver began his ministry as a chaplain more than 20 years ago with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and was there as division chaplain when 248 soldiers were killed in the 1985 Gander plane crash while returning from a peace-keeping mission. “That was a major event in my life as far as ministering to mass casualties and tending to the long-term care of soldiers and families as they suffered loss,” Carver remembered.
In his 32-year-marriage, he and his wife, along with their two now-grown daughters, moved 24 times around the country and overseas, including stops in Colorado, New Jersey, Kansas and Virginia as well as Manheim, Germany, where he ministered to the needs of families whose soldiers were deployed during Desert Storm, and in Heidelberg, Germany, when 9/11 took place.
Chaplain (COL) Paul Vicalvi, the commandant at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School, has worked closely with Carver for the last year at the school but has known him for more than 20 years. He admits that he will miss their daily friendship.
“Doug will bring a deep godliness, he will bring a continued credibility of senior leadership and spirituality, and he will bring combat experience,” Vicalvi said of Carver’s promotion. “He has a great ability to articulate our values.... he’s been a great junior chaplain and now he will be a great senior chaplain.”
Pete Sharber, director of chaplaincy evangelism for the North American Mission Board, attended Carver’s promotion ceremony. “It’s been over 50 years since we had a Southern Baptist chaplain be promoted [to the Chief of Chaplains office] for active duty Army,” Sharber said. “We are very happy for Doug and very proud.”
A CHAPLAIN’S CHAPLAIN
More than 450 people gathered in Chaplain Carver’s honor for his promotion ceremony in September. It was a worshipful time, filled with fond remembrances and joyful prayers for the future.
Army Chief of Chaplains Major General David Hicks described Carver as a spiritual leader and said he was looking forward to working together. He emphasized the importance of the chaplain’s calling.
“Anybody can stand on a hill and pound his chest and say, ‘I’m in charge,’” Hicks said. “It’s not what it’s all about. It’s about servant leadership; it’s about serving others and serving God. Not everyone can be a chaplain. It takes a very special person.
“I’m grateful to God that God has singled [Doug] out; it’s a calling, and I’m sure Doug will say that’s what drives him.... [I]t’s not about choosing to do these kinds of things, we’re here because God’s called us.
“One day will not be like the next day, but God will be with us as we take spiritual leadership to the next level,” Hicks said.
After Carver was pinned with his new rank and presented with the flag of the deputy chief of chaplains’ along with the chaplain’s stole, the symbol of Christ’s yoke, he shared his thoughts with those in attendance.
“As you look around, what you’re seeing are the lives it took to make me what I am today,” Carver said. “Here’s what God’s done to build this one person –- He does that with all of us. It’s taken many people to keep me straight,” he quipped, as he thanked specific mentors, family and friends who have supported him in his ministry.
He recalled the last time he saw his father, shortly before he left for Iraq. Sick with Parkinson’s and living in a nursing home, in a trembling voice, the elder Carver prayed for his son’s safety and that he would “keep a straight path.”
“That’s how I ask you to pray for me and Sunny now, that He will keep our path straight,” Carver said.
It’s clear that he is keeping his new assignment in perspective. “We’re in the business of washing people’s feet,” he told someone. “I’ve just been given a bigger towel.”