The Chaplain's Tension
Nearly all of us have a pastor who knows us by name. But do you have a chaplain? This is a more important question today than a generation ago, because we live in a culture on the go. In emergencies, more of us are turning to chaplains than ever before.
This month's cover package begins with senior writer Deann Alford's focus on the ministry of Christians, especially chaplains, in motorsports ("Racing for Jesus," page 22). And in "Cheating Death" (page 28), senior managing editor Mark Galli looks at auto racing through the lens of Christian spirituality.
For more than 20 years, trackside chaplains at NASCAR races have been ministering to drivers, crews, fans, and journalists covering NASCAR. Back in 2001, chaplains were a great resource after the tragic death of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., a Christian whose competitive personality earned him the sobriquet, "Angel in Black."
Denver Seminary is one of the few evangelical institutions to provide professional-level training for chaplains. After 22 years of service as an Air Force chaplain, Jan McCormack joined Denver's faculty to create a chaplaincy program. McCormack has also served as a chaplain in NASCAR, hospitals, prisons, and crisis settings. She provided many insights into the importance of our cover story.
Understanding the differences between a church-based pastorate and a work-based chaplaincy can be difficult. "Chaplaincy is really doing missionary work in somebody else's workplace In racetrack chaplaincy, you are at their job site." McCormack said creative tension is key to understanding the chaplain's role. "The tension that you [the chaplain] have to be able to live with well and with integrity is to represent to that institution and to that individual your own faith background, without any apology or compromise.
"Most of us want to remove tension, not live in tension," she said. "But to be a successful chaplain, you have to live in that in-between space. It's difficult, but an incredible opportunity."
Sprint Cup #44 driver David Reutimann, a third-generation driver who often has a cross decal on his car, is living daily with that kind of tension. In comments to Baptist Press Sports last year, Reutimann said, "Sometimes things happen on the racetrack that you don't mean to happen, but people see that and say, 'He just knocked him out of the way and he's got a cross on his carwho does he think he is?' It's kind of a tough deal." For Christian drivers, personal integrity and professionalism must be in sync.
McCormack told me the high level of cooperation and friendship between competing crews and drivers shocked her. "I found authenticity with [NASCAR drivers]. There wasn't wife-beating, playing around, doing drugs." Many drivers, she found, came to faith because of an accident in which their life was spared.
Being a chaplain has deeply enriched McCormack's spiritual walk. "I get paid to tell people that God loves them. How much better could it get? Your church and your office are wherever you areunder the wing of an airplane. It's literally a ministry of presence, witness, and relational evangelism. It's pretty cool to watch God work."
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August's cover story, "Racing for Jesus," is about ministry in NASCAR.