I spent four years between high school and college in the Navy. I then served four more years as a reservist during college. After college, I enrolled in seminary and applied for a reserve officer’s commission. I was given a pair of shiny ensign bars for my collar and sent to the Navy Chaplain Basic Course through a program for seminarians.
Service members and families have the right to free exercise of religion. Chaplains help make that possible. But congress never appropriates a lot of money for chaplains. Navy chaplains also serve the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. That is a huge congregation for relatively few clergy. I rarely saw a chaplain at sea. They typically flew to the ship on the “holy helo”, held a service, gave the benediction and then flew away. Their appearances were rare in port.
My chaplain school instructors stressed ministry of presence. They taught us to go where the sailors and marines were. There weren’t enough chaplains so we were told to get out of the office, get out of the chapel, and be present with sailors and marines. It meant something to just show up and be present where they lived and worked. Showing up demonstrated that we were there for them.
In our church, members vow to support each other with prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Each time someone joins the congregation, we renew our vow to be there for each other. Worship is the primary regular gathering for Christians. Now though, 22 Sundays per year counts as “regular attendance”. Worship is a ministry of presence. We are present with one another and with God in worship. Today we can listen to a broadcast or a podcast or watch a live stream service on our phone. We can practice religion without being physically present. But Christian community is a ministry of presence. We make a covenant to “be there” for each other. Our personal ministry of presence demonstrates that we are here for each other, especially in times of need. Being present is our gift to one another.