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To be a Chaplain Means to Serve Selflessly »
He is retired, but not really. Dick Stenebakken, a retired Army Chaplain (Col.), continues to make headlines as a trainer of chaplains, frequently invited to assist in making the profession “go a little deeper with their own sense of who they are,” said Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Paul K. Hurley, Chief of Army Chaplain Corps, during the event with unit ministry teams, January 17-19, at Liberty Chapel in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The presentations at Fort Campbell were part of an ongoing series done in conjunction with the Army Chief of Chaplains major training events all across the U.S. Army system.
“I do first person presentations as a survivor of the sinking of the troop ship, the Dorchester, where the four chaplains on board gave their life vests to the next four soldiers who needed them after all the other life vests were gone. The points are raised about what it means to be a chaplain, and to serve selflessly,” Stenbakken explained.
The presentations are done in original WWII era uniforms, using WWII props to make the story more realistic and believable. The skit was intended to feel very real, with the majority of attendees not knowing it’s just acting. “They are so believable in fact, that people often ask me afterwards, ‘How old are you? Were you really on the Dorchester?” he adds.
A news report published by Clarksville Online described the training event noting that “one interesting activity involves a retired chaplain, who has a great ability to portray chaplains from previous eras in little vignettes of [events] they would have been involved with,” Hurley said. “His presentation is so powerful. He’s acting out a scenario of something either a chaplain or chaplain’s assistant would have gone through.”
“Dr. Dick Stenbakken, retired Army Chaplain (Col.), somberly took the audience through ‘his’ experience as a chaplain during the Nuremburg trials and how as a chaplain, he had to find the ability to serve these men who had committed heinous crimes.
“Hurley said the scenes are intended to feel very real, with the majority of attendees not knowing it’s just acting,” the report stated.
Hurley explained that the speakers and group activities help everyone as individuals be stronger in their own identity.
The other Stenbakken presentation is as Chaplain Henry Gerecke, a Missouri Synod Lutheran Army Chaplain, who was assigned to serve as chaplain/pastor to the German High Commanders who were on trial at Nuremberg for war crimes. He served his parishioners for 11 months, then walked with them up the 13 steps to the gallows to pray with them before they died.
Stenbakken explains that the challenge for chaplains is to examine why they do ministry and to look at the tensions in ministry where we are called to minister in situations not of our own choice, but to meet the needs of people because they have needs, not because they are worthy, popular, or people we would want as neighbors.
Stenbakken recalls that Chaplain Gerecke, while stationed in England, assisted Seventh-day Adventist personnel in setting up Adventist services. “He even preached and lead services for them from time to time. He was a fascinating person. He also set up Jewish services when there were none. The Jewish personnel had a special ring made for him with the letters GZY, abbreviation for the Hebrew gamzu-ya-avor (this too shall pass). He wore the ring the rest of his life,” Stenbakken commented.
“For me, as a retired Army chaplain (at the rank of full Colonel), doing these presentations and being with the top leaders of the Army chaplain corps is like coming home in many ways. It was my privilege to have served as a member of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains as a very young Major in charge of Marriage and Family Life Ministries for the Army Chaplain Corps. Then, after leaving the Army, to have continued working with all branches of the military as a Military Endorser, bringing Seventh-day Adventist clergy into the military services as chaplains,” he said.
Before his retirement in 2004, Stenbakken served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North-American Division headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Married to Ardis Stenbakken, former Women’s Ministries director of the Seventh-day Adventist world Church, the Stenbakkens are members of the Campion Church, and live in Loveland, Colorado.
--Rajmund Dabrowski; photo courtesy of Sgt. Samantha Stoffregen, U.S. Army