Feature   Defense News

Chaplains Get Creative to Keep Spiritual Community Afloat

April 14, 2020

We're living in strange times. For many, daily life has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes, we need a little faith to get us through, and that's what Defense Department chaplains are working to bolster during this disruption.

A smartphone in a tripod records a chaplain at a podium as a band sits in the background. A large cross is behind the chaplain.
Religious Services
Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jacob Scott livestreams religious services at Camp Bondsteel Chapel, Kosovo, March 22, 2020. Services are typically done with a live audience every week by Army chaplains, but the worship service was livestreamed to soldiers to protect against COVID-19.
Photo By: Army National Guard Maj. W. Chris Clyne
VIRIN: 200322-Z-ZJ128-1001M

Since people can't congregate as they normally do, chaplains from all faiths are reaching out virtually to their communities. They're holding online services and using the web, phone calls and other practices to counsel members looking for guidance.

"Chaplains and religious program specialists at all levels must find creative ways to minimize risk while continuing to serve," Chaplain (Rear Adm.) Brent W. Scott, the Navy's chief of chaplains, said. "It is during times like these that the mission of the Chaplain Corps is most vital."

"Chaplains have great resources, and they are here to care for your soul whether you're a person of faith or not," Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Thomas L. Solhjem, the Army's chief of chaplains, said. 

The screen of a smartphone shows a religious service being broadcast on Facebook.
Delivering Messages
Chaplains from across the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, N.Y., are delivering messages of faith, hope and resilience to help community members cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Michael Strasser, Army
VIRIN: 200403-A-XX986-001M

Mental health among service members is a big concern. Religious leaders know that social distancing can be hard, especially for those who live and work alone. That's why their message of "more social distancing, less disconnection" is crucial for service members who must continue their missions.

"Chaplains are using creative ways to push encouraging and supportive words," Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James Foster, the chaplain for the Army's 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, said. "There are numerous daily and weekly messages published on brigade and battalion Facebook pages, and some chaplains have even established their own YouTube or unit-specific religious support social media pages."

This video shows chaplains are getting pretty crafty:


Chaplains said virtual turnout for religious services has increased since the pandemic began. While streaming religious services normally get only a few hundred views at best, they said their audiences have grown into the thousands.

There are still some physical ways chaplains are able to serve, too — while maintaining social distancing and using personal protective equipment, of course. Over Easter weekend, Fort Knox, Kentucky, held a drive-in, nondenominational service filled with messages, prayers, readings and live music. At Camp Zama, Japan, drive-up communion is being made available weekly outside the chapel for Catholics after Mass is livestreamed, and Protestants can receive communion inside the chapel for one hour on Thursdays.

A priest wearing gloves and a mask holds up a communion host as a parishioner inside a car prepares to receive it.
Holy Family
Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Alan Irizarry, operations chaplain for U.S. Army Japan and priest for the Camp Zama Holy Family Catholic Community, provides communion to parishioners after a livestreamed Mass at Camp Zama, Japan, April 5, 2020. Those involved wore personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo By: Winifred Brown, Army
VIRIN: 200407-A-IT218-005M
An Army chaplain holds up communion to a family of four at the front of an empty church.
Group Communion
Army Chaplain (Capt.) Malcolm Rios, chaplain for the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, provides communion to Army Chaplain (Capt.) Danny Black; Black’s wife, Reana; and the couple’s sons inside the Camp Zama Chapel at Camp Zama, Japan, April 2, 2020.
Photo By: Winifred Brown, Army
VIRIN: 200407-A-IT218-002

Chaplains have also been helping to deliver care packages to those in quarantine. It's something they're encouraging others to do, too — safely, of course.

"Think of others at this difficult time," Army Chaplain (Capt.) Moshe Lans, Fort Drum's rabbi, said. "If capable, consider sending something to quarantined people. Food, flowers, cards, notes, gift cards, calling them on the telephone are all ways to let the quarantined person in your life know that you are together despite being physically separate."

Many in the military faith-based community are grateful for their faith leaders' willingness to adapt. 

"It is most important during these times of hardship and uncertainty because it is now, more than ever, that we need to keep our faith and still keep our religious routine," Army Sgt. 1st Class Cruzy Cruz, a Catholic who attended Camp Zama's drive-in communion on Palm Sunday, said. 

Some chaplains are reminding the faithful that, while this isn't an easy time, it's a good time to recharge their batteries.

"For many of us, this is a much-needed chance to slow down, to read, to grow in our faith and to count our blessings," Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Steven A. Schaick, the Air Force's chief of chaplains, said in a video message. "Let me be clear, though — this is hard, and this is very real."