By Sam Hodges –
The skies were gray. The faithful had to wear masks and keep their distance. But Lt. Cmdr. Genevieve Clark, a United Methodist chaplain in the U.S. Navy, was still able to lead an Easter sunrise service on the flight deck of the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship deployed to Los Angeles to help in the coronavirus pandemic.
“I tried to encourage these sailors that although there is chaos and even clouds literally covering the sunrise during the Easter crisis of 2020, we can still be and are still being the hands and feet of Jesus,” Clark said.
About three weeks ago, Clark was assigned to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and looking forward to a summer deployment aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. Then the coronavirus pandemic gripped the U.S., and the USNS Mercy was tasked with taking on hospital patients to free up bed space for expected coronavirus victims. Chaplains would be needed. “I was offered the opportunity to come aboard the ship,” Clark said. “I had about 24 hours’ notice.” For now, Clark lives on the USNS Mercy, temporarily separated from her husband.
“We care for everyone on board, regardless of religious affiliation or no religious affiliation,” she said of herself and fellow chaplains. “We do that by walking around, visiting with people, hearing their stories. If there’s something we can help them with that’s specifically spiritual, we try to talk to them in their spiritual language.”
Earlier on April 12, and across the country, Maryland Army National Guard Chaplain (Capt.) Amor Woolsey led Easter morning services at two guard armories. Social distancing was required there too, but that didn’t get in the way. “It was such wonderful worship,” said Woolsey, a United Methodist elder. “We celebrated the risen Christ together.”
While Woolsey is a 10-year veteran of guard chaplaincy, her main work is leading Calvary United Methodist and Wye Carmichael United Methodist, two small churches in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. The 37-year-old Wesley Theological Seminary graduate and granddaughter of a Methodist missionary, embraces her life in parish ministry. But she also has felt called to part-time military chaplaincy, feeling she can help ease the burden of those traumatized by wartime service and separation from loved ones.
She’s been with the guard as it has set up coronavirus testing sites and substituted for nonprofits in delivering food to the needy. “The most powerful ministry within the guard is the ministry of presence, being there when they’re doing their thing, even if it’s just filling sandbags,” Woolsey said. “They appreciate their chaplain being with them.”
This Holy Week found her recording messages for her churches’ online worship, while also leading services for guard members On Easter, she was glad to be wearing fatigues and a stole, bringing what she called a “faith over fear” message to some of those deployed with her.
“I reminded them that as Christ brings hope to us, we bring light and hope to those we interact with — especially during this time.”
Sam Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News.