Captain Brian J. Stamm, USN, Fleet Chaplain, U.S. Fleet Forces, commissions Pastor Drew Goodson for ELCA Federal Chaplaincy.
In a sense, Pastor Drew Goodson has always wanted to be a military chaplain. He first named it as a seminarian over 15 years ago when a Navy recruiter visited his campus in Philadelphia. “That stoked an interest that I think I actually had a lot sooner,” Drew says. “But then I tucked it away for as long as I could.”
After 12 years of parish ministry in the NC Synod, most recently as associate pastor of Christ, Charlotte, Drew is not keeping his call to military chaplaincy tucked away any longer.
In December, Drew was commissioned as a US Navy chaplain and he is currently in Newport, Rhode Island for five weeks of Officer Development School followed by seven weeks of Chaplaincy School. Once completed, Drew will move with his wife, Megan, and sons, Zach and Caleb, to their first duty station in Norfolk, VA where he will serve as chaplain on the USS Philippine Sea cruiser.
Growing up, Drew had close relationships with his grandfathers who were veterans. “They were both men of faith and character that I really looked up to,” says Drew. “So much so I developed an interest in military life and history from a young age. I even thought about going to one of the service academies after high school.” Drew instead attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for college, and through participating in Lutheran Campus Ministry he discerned a call to public ministry. But the pull towards military service never went away.
“When the Navy recruiter came to seminary, it was like this alignment of my interest in building Christian community and serving Christ, as well as serving our country,” he says.
The call does not come without sacrifice. Drew remembers all those years ago when he first told Megan about his visit with the Navy recruiter, and she burst into tears thinking about what it could mean for their future. Now in leaving Charlotte, their family is not only saying goodbye to their congregation but to extended family who live close by. Drew says, “I think a lot about the Gospel passage when Peter says to Jesus, ‘We’ve left home and fields and sisters and brothers to follow you.’ That’s really literal for us right now.”
As Drew and his family step out in faith, he recognizes the ways his experiences in parish ministry prepared him for this new adventure. As one of the pastors of Christ, Charlotte, Drew learned team ministry, an experience he sees as important for military service and chaplaincy in an interfaith setting. In his first call to serve Our Redeemer, Greenville, he also led campus ministry with East Carolina University and loved it. With 75% of sailors between ages 17-24, Drew sees similar opportunities for ministry in the Navy. “They’re young people and they’re trying to figure out basic things in life, and hopefully I can share God’s love in the midst of that,” he says.
Drew is excited by the idea of being embedded among the people he serves on a day-to-day basis. When his cruiser is deployed for tours of 4-8 months in foreign waters, he’ll go, too. In this model of ministry, he sees an opportunity to share Christ through a Lutheran lens. “The ELCA’s whole model of missionary work is accompaniment—saying to people, ‘We’re here to walk alongside you, to build a relationship with you, and to help you see how God is already at work in your life,’” Drew says.
Drew sees this approach to chaplaincy as particularly vital among the military, where the burdens service members carry can be heavy. “When violence is unavoidable, it’s tragic and it’s something we need to repent of, from a spiritual perspective, to receive that gift of forgiveness,” says Drew. “I think for a lot of soldiers and sailors who have had to be involved in violence, to hear that word of confession and absolution is life-changing. There are a lot of people in the military who struggle with feeling hopeless and alone, or with thoughts of suicide. Ultimately, I think God has put me here to help save lives and to shine the light of Christ.”
Drew will remain a pastor rostered in the NC Synod while serving as a chaplain in the US Navy. He will join two other NC Synod pastors who serve as chaplains in the US Military—Chaplain Brian Stamm and Chaplain John Connelly. Additionally, three NC Synod pastors serve as chaplains in the reserves—Chris Webb, Jasmine Tesdahl, and Linn Fisher.
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