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Pastor sees incarnational ministry in entering the Army as a chaplain

CHICKASHA, Okla. (BP)–To Roger Andrew Taylor, camouflage suits and shiny black boots are the perfect attire for a pastor. Taylor, who prefers to be called Andy, despite the obvious inevitable comparison to a small North Carolina town sheriff of the same name, said being a soldier is in his blood.

“My earliest memories are of when we lived at Fort Bragg, N.C., and of being around soldiers,” Taylor said. “I just grew up in that environment.”

And, as a product of that environment, Taylor, who recently resigned as pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Chickasha, Okla., sees no contradiction in serving both God and his country.

“I have always said there are two things that I thought I was good at, and one of them — pastoring — I wasn’t really sure about,” he said. “But I’ve always been a good soldier and loved being with soldiers.”

The son of a soldier who was firing artillery shells at the enemy in South Vietnam on the day he was born, Taylor has accepted a commission as a captain in the Army and joined the 75th Multiple-Launch Rocket System Brigade at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., as the unit’s chaplain Jan. 3.

But the road to service in the regular Army has been anything but smooth for Taylor, his wife, Laurie, and their 3-year-old son, Seth. Taylor, who has a photo of his father, Roger, in Vietnam holding an artillery shell with his newborn son’s name and birth date written on it, and his family have battled health problems in fulfilling the call he sensed from God even as far back as high school.

“My dad signed the papers for me to join the Army National Guard before I graduated from high school,” Taylor said. “A couple of months after I graduated, and almost one month to the day after God called me to preach, I went to basic training.

“I guess I should have known then that this was something the Lord was eventually going to allow to happen in my life, but at that time, I never really thought about the chaplain ministry.”

Taylor served in the National Guard for six years — actually four years with the Guard and two more with the 12th Special Forces Reserve Unit in Oklahoma City — before he left the military to become youth/outreach minister at Regency Park Baptist Church in Moore, Okla.

Still, those military moorings didn’t disappear when he left the Guard.

“About a year after that, I read in a missions magazine about chaplains serving in Somalia,” Taylor said. “I really felt God strike a chord in my heart then, and I’ve never been able to get away from it.”

So, for eight years, the Taylors struggled with answering that call. “We actually tried to go active duty four years ago, but I was turned down because of some kidney stone problems,” he said.

After being turned down by the Army, Taylor tried to enter the Air Force, but that effort also failed. Finally, on April 18, 2001, he received a medical waiver and rejoined the National Guard as a first lieutenant.

“Serving in the Guard has been a great experience,” Taylor said. “I felt a tremendous amount of fulfillment of purpose on my Guard weekends, talking with soldiers, being with the troops.”

Still, Taylor said last March he “felt God tugging at my heart, and he and Laurie prayed for several months for direction. In July, Taylor began once again to pursue the opportunity to do military ministry on a daily basis.

“The military moves very slowly,” Taylor said, “but God has led the way.” He was accepted into a special chaplains program called “Finders Keepers,” a recruiting program which guaranteed that his first duty station would be Fort Sill.

That assignment turned out to be a tremendous blessing for the Taylors, especially Seth, who has some developmental delays and regularly sees a speech therapist and an occupational therapist.

“Seth shows autistic tendencies, although he’s not a classic autistic child,” Taylor said. The move to Lawton will benefit Seth, because the local school district there has “one of the best autism and developmental delay programs for young children in the state, if not this region,” Taylor said.

“We found out after being accepted into the Army that soldiers who have autistic children are often stationed at Fort Sill because of the local school district’s program. This is a tremendous blessing for us.”

That blessing includes huge savings in medical costs, because Seth’s treatments are now covered by the Army’s medical insurance. The Taylors’ previous insurance didn’t cover them. Taylor estimated his family spent more than $10,000 on Seth’s care in 2002.

“Of course, we would have spent whatever it cost,” he said. “Also, we have talked to each therapist, and each accepts the Army coverage, so now maybe we can even increase the therapy Seth gets.”

Taylor is excited about joining the Army because he said it “has an outstanding model of ministry. Its model says that for every battalion, there is a chaplain. So, instead of working out of a chapel every day, for instance, whatever the unit is doing, I’m doing. Whether it’s in the field, doing maintenance, or in the chow hall.

“That’s one of the main reasons I really wanted to go back into the Army. Their model of ministry, I think, is very incarnational. As an Army chaplain, I’ll be with the unit all the time. When they’re training, they’ll see the chaplain right there with them. That’s what really hooked my heart; wherever these guys are, I am too. When they’re sleeping on the ground, I’m sleeping on the ground.”

While excited about his new career in the Army, Taylor understandably found it hard to leave Trinity Baptist Church.

“I had been here almost six years in this church, and we have done quite well reaching out to people,” he said. “Our attendance is double from where we started; the budget is more than doubled. We recently moved into our new multi-purpose facility, thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of wonderful laypeople who gave and gave and gave.

“When I came six years ago, they told me we have to reach young people. At that time, the youngest active members were in their mid-40s. So, it was a predominantly senior adult church, which is very good, but they really wanted us to reach young adults.

“I started casting a vision for that — now the church is doing some innovative things, using multi-media and a full band to do music, for example.”

Trinity averages about 120 in Sunday School and 150-200 in worship, Taylor said, adding that “the spirit of the church is so much more alive now; more than I’ve ever seen it.”

Trinity recently voted to hire music minister Scott Guthrie fulltime and also approved its largest budget in recent history. Laypeople staff the church’s youth and children’s ministries.

The church is in the growing section of Chickasha, as evidenced by a new 300-unit apartment complex being built just a couple of blocks away.

“The south side of Chickasha is where the growth is,” Taylor said. “Strategically, Trinity is poised to be in the middle of that growth for the next decade. That’s why we built our new facility.

“The laity has caught the vision of recognizing that we have to reach families. Our church motto is ‘Helping Families in Their Journey with God, Themselves and Others.'”

Taylor said he feels assured that God will bring the right man to lead the church.

“That’s the greatest confidence that I have,” he said. “That’s what allows me to leave with great confidence.

“It’s going to be hard to walk away from, but I’m so confident that God has done this thing with the Army in my life that it gives me great confidence that he will continue to do his work in this church. The fruit that has been born here will be the fruit that lasts.

“I have spent the last five years emphasizing two things — lay ministry and leadership, by that to mean that people need to find their own ministry. I always told them to “find your God-given purpose and your God-given dream and then pursue it.”

“Now, the preacher is practicing what he preaches.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ANDY AND LAURIE TAYLOR.

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  • Bob Nigh