Q&A with Chaplain Gregory Todd

In May, Chaplain (Rear Adm.) Gregory Todd was promoted to chief of chaplains for the U.S. Navy, supervising the 1,100 chaplains who minister to nearly 650,000 personnel and their family members in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Todd’s interest in military chaplaincy began in the seminary. After graduation, he spent several years serving in both a parish and the Navy Reserve before making the leap to active duty, where he has been ever since. Todd and his wife, Teresa, have five daughters and four grandchildren and attend Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va.

How did you become a military chaplain?

A: While attending Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, a friend told me about a chaplain candidate program where I could join the Navy part time and learn about naval chaplaincy. It was kind of like ROTC for seminary students. Since I had grown up in Seattle and loved the sea, I was intrigued. During the summer, I attended the basic chaplain training course and, quite frankly, wasn’t that impressed. It was too much about classroom work and policy. But the next summer, I attended a Marine Corps course. We spent two weeks living in the field with Marines, learning how to function and minister in an austere environment. I loved it! I saw it as an opportunity to bring the Gospel into an authentic, rugged and sometimes edgy environment.

What have been some of the highlights from your career?

A: There are so many! Most of them are small and intimate, not necessarily involving hundreds of people. Chaplaincy is most often one-on-one pastoral care. … I was in Afghanistan and a Marine asked to be baptized. With over 100 of his fellow Marines around, I used the explanation of Baptism from Luther’s Small Catechism to teach everyone there what we were doing. Three Marines in the front row were hanging on every word and when I finished, I had those three pop up and say, “What you just said … that’s what we want!” … Now that I’m higher in rank and serve more as a supervisor, the joy comes in training, mentoring and enabling others in ministry.

Why are military chaplains so important?

A: Without military chaplains, many of our Lutheran service members would not have ready access to the Word and Sacraments. Additionally, chaplains serve as an iconic reminder for the warrior that they serve within a context of something bigger than themselves. … Finally, chaplains have the opportunity to bring the Gospel into the proverbial “public square” with all its messiness and challenges. … Yet in this chaotic public square, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has opportunity to shine.

What are the joys of this service?

A: Chief among them is to tell someone that Christ died on the cross for them and that their sins are forgiven. So many military people have told me that they hadn’t heard that before! What a joy to witness the impact of Christ’s forgiveness firsthand.

Is there anything else you want the church to know?

A: I cannot overstate the opportunity we have to reach our society through chaplaincy. The Navy is asking us to grow the Chaplain Corps significantly, so we are desperately seeking adventurous pastors who are called to serve. It’s not necessary to serve a whole 20-year career. In three to four years, a chaplain will make a significant contribution and will receive amazing experience as a counselor, interacting with 18- to 25-year-olds and engaging in the public square. I would invite all our pastors to consider it. Through naval chaplaincy, God has blessed me more than I ever imagined.

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Megan K. Mertz

Managing editor of Lutherans Engage the World and chief copy editor for LCMS Communications.

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