Thursday, February 03, 2011

Remembering the Dorchester Chaplains

Perhaps it’s the cold weather by itself. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been home in a while because of the weather (my decision and my wife’s, and not my hospital’s). For one reason or another, there is something particularly resonant about the observation today of the lesser feast of the Dorchester Chaplains.

The Dorchester Chaplains were military chaplains. Their story is told in the book, No Greater Glory by Dan Kurzman. They were chaplains in the United States Army shipping with troops on the USAT Dorchester when on February 3, 1943, it was attacked and sunk by a submarine of the Navy of Nazi Germany. In the midst literally of fire, flood, and terror, they cared for those in their charge. They offered support, they assisted into the lifeboats, and gave up their life jackets. They stayed with the ship, witnessed to be praying together by one of the last witnesses; and together they disappeared into dark, cold waters. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

And in that light, I am reflective on this morning’s temperatures – 10 degrees below 0F when I woke this morning – and conscious how I would fare exposed as they were. A verse from today’s Daily Office lesson – “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace” (Isaiah 55:12) – sounds different, feels different for these who died in the midst of war.

I have written before of my esteem for my colleagues in military chaplaincy. They provide care in difficult circumstances, and protect freedom to practice religion for those whose time and place are not under their control. I can appreciate their work, when mine has much in common with theirs; but rarely in my career (for good or ill, I can’t say “never”) has my ministry required anything like their sacrifice and risk. This is a day to remember the peaceful, compassionate ministries and sacrifice of the Dorchester Chaplains; and to appreciate the peaceful, compassionate ministries and sacrifices of their colleagues who continue to serve.

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