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‘Proactive’ ministry goal of Naval Academy chaplain

EDITOR’S NOTE: To see video of the first immersion baptism at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel, go to http://www.bpnews.net/mediaplayer.asp?Id=56.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (BP)–As Lt. Cmdr. Scott Callaham reflects on the opportunities God has given him as a North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain, one that stands out is when he baptized men by immersion for the first time in the 101-year history of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.

Callaham, a member of Weems Creek Baptist Church in Annapolis, Md., is serving a three-year tour of duty at the Naval Academy. On Easter this year, he helped baptize nine midshipmen in a converted physical therapy tub.

The occasion was important to Callaham, he said, because young believers serving in the nation’s military testified to their faith in a public manner.

“Immersion has a very evangelistic impact, especially when it’s performed with people who are not Christians in attendance,” Callaham told BaptistLIFE, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

“Going through the act tells the whole story, sometimes better than with words. That believer gets buried with Christ and rises. He or she identifies with Christ right now in faith, testifying to Christ’s resurrection in the past and to the believer’s own resurrection in the future. It’s pretty powerful,” he said.

Callaham graduated from the academy in 1993, but he remembers well arriving in Annapolis just out of high school in Houston. With his head shaved, he swore his oath of service and soon began his days with rigorous physical activity at 5:45 a.m.

“I remember my plebe summer and the ‘old’ chaplains huffing and puffing as they ran with us,” Callaham recounted.

He remembers the encouragement he felt when the chaplains cheered for him to keep going. Now Callaham climbs out of bed voluntarily at 5 a.m. to run with the plebes. Today he’s one of the “more mature” chaplains and admits he occasionally huffs and puffs.

Callaham grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ as a child. After graduating from the academy, he was a fast attack nuclear submarine officer in the Navy. Sensing a call to become a chaplain, he resigned after completing his service obligation.

Following studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, Callaham returned to active duty as a chaplain. Before being assigned to the Naval Academy, he served on an aircraft carrier along the Pacific Coast in Washington.

“This is the best job I’ll ever have,” Callaham said of his service as a chaplain. “Military personnel are intensely interested in solving their problems and doing it in a framework that includes their faith.”

As a military chaplain, Callaham strives for complete confidentiality. Being in an organization that places a high value on the free exercise of religion allows him to speak to people candidly, he said.

For example, while counseling a sailor on the aircraft carrier, Callaham discovered that the young man had grown up in a Mormon family.

“My role is to protect his free exercise of religion per the United States Constitution,” Callaham said. “So I said, ‘If you want to speak with someone with a Mormon viewpoint, I’m not that person. I can refer you to someone else. Or, if you prefer, I can tell you how I address this issue as a follower of Jesus.'”

Callaham works with people from a variety of backgrounds, including many sailors and Marines who don’t profess a religious faith.

As a chaplain, Callaham doesn’t wait in a secluded office for others to approach him for counseling.

“The most effective chaplain ministry is proactive, in which the chaplain thoroughly participates in the life of the people served,” he said.

While he was aboard the aircraft carrier, Callaham walked through an engineering area, checking in with people and letting them know the chaplains cared about them. Later, a young woman from that department asked to discuss a problem she was having. He believes that opportunity was prompted by his walk through the engineering spaces.

When he was a midshipman, Callaham was involved in the Annapolis Baptist Student Ministry (BSM). Today he points to Naval Academy BSM founding director Dick Bumpass as a tremendous influence on him.

“I didn’t realize the depth of the effect Dick had on me at the time,” Callaham said.

The BSM, he said, trains midshipmen in a Christian worldview and complements the work of the local church. During his earlier days at the academy, Callaham especially enjoyed seeking refuge at the BSM house where he could relax in a Christian environment.

“College is a crucial time in people’s lives,” he said, noting that many students leave church after high school.

“Here is a ministry that engages young people at that critical time of questioning: ‘What does God say about this? What is the Christ-like thing to do in this circumstance? What does it mean to follow God as a naval officer?’ I am thrilled to protect their religious freedom so that they can seek the answers to these questions,” Callaham said.
Adapted from a report by Sharon Mager of BaptistLIFE. This article presents personal opinions and does not reflect the views of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Naval Academy.

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