Taking Ministry to New Heights
This article is part of a series offering a snapshot of extension ministries of the Texas Annual Conference. Please watch the conference website and Cross Connection for future articles.
By Brant Mills, Web Content Manager
Chaplain Captain Buddy Walker has served in many places around the world while working as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. His journey has taken him through a variety of diverse ministry settings and given him the opportunity to serve in many capacities as an extension minister.
Having been raised in a Christian home, Walker says he cannot recall ever not knowing Jesus Christ.
When he was a senior at Texas A&M, his District Superintendent offered him a temporary pastoral position that needed to be filled. He ended up serving the Milano circuit for 4 years and says he learned the graces of being a pastor there. He also began flying small planes during that time and began a journey toward two vocations of which he says one was a calling and one was a dream from youth.
In the early 90’s, Walker moved to Laneville UMC where he stopped being a part-time local pastor and started seminary at Perkins. “I flew myself to Love field to attend classes and then flew back to East Texas.” After finishing seminary, he received his first appointment to serve as an associate pastor at A&M UMC.
In 1998 Walker accompanied a friend who was being commissioned to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio. While visiting he stopped in to talk to the people at the Air Force chaplain recruiting center. He then began the process to become a chaplain for the USAF.
His dream and calling came together in 1999 when he was appointed as a chaplain and stationed at Tyndall AFB in Panama City, Florida. “I got to do aerospace ministry as an Air Force Chaplain. It was a great ministry.”
Around the World
Walker left Tyndall in 2003 when he was deployed in Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia for 4 months. He then moved to Thule AFB in Greenland, which he describes as our last arctic base – 500 miles south of the North Pole. “I served as an installation chaplain there. It was an international ministry to mostly Danish and Eskimo and 140-plus Air Force personnel.”
Later, Walker transferred to a fighter base at Spangdahlem Germany before returning to the U.S. to Bolling AFB in Washington D.C. during the Summer of 2008.
“I was put to work for 3 months in Chief of Chaplain’s office in the Plans and Programs division,” Walker said. “There I had great exposure to strategic ministry planning for the Air Force,” Walker said. “I spent time working on drafting a regulation to give more freedom to individuals to wear religious head coverings. There is a complex chain of permissions to wear a kufi or yarmulke. We were working on that when I left. Diversity tolerance is a huge concern in protecting freedom of religion – a unique aspect of the job I enjoy.”
He deployed to Khandahar Afghanistan and returned to Bolling in mid-September, 2009.
Since his return, Walker has been serving in a Major’s position even though he is a Captain. “I’m called Senior Protestant Chaplain and I supervise two chaplain captains, about 11 protestant programs (all programs not catholic) two coordinators, a parish coordinator, a religious education coordinator and the rater and supervisor of two captains. I also pastor the 9:00 liturgical service [weekly].”
“Here at Bolling we take care of the National Capital Region. This includes everywhere we’ve got Air Force people working, in DC and beyond, between Virginia and Maryland. A person with any major life changing event can call and say ‘we need a chaplain.’”
A Diverse Ministry
Walker says he is part of “a culture of direct access for our faith where we have permission as caregivers to be involved with people regardless of their religious tradition… “When something bad or good happens or they need affirmation or support, I’m the one they call. It is wonderful and amazing. I’ve had kids at Tyndall who are Wiccan… and an atheist in Greenland… who would introduce me as their chaplain. One asked me to give the prayer for his promotion ceremony.” “Relational ministry works,” Walker noted.”They know that first and foremost, we love them as fellow human beings. That gives us caregiving access to ask the really tough questions, or just provide as safe place to vent about frustrations.”
“It is the absolute, unimpeachable, inclusive ministry that listens and speaks beyond church boundaries. Not everyone does well in this environment for that reason. We model Christ to the people we serve in this community. They know from the connection because we care about them – not because we’re required to – it is relational ministry.”
Before the holidays hit they have a mandatory event called Wingman Day for all enlisted and civilian employees. Walker said they “have briefings about how to look out for one another in the holiday season when more accidents seem to occur. They are tasked to take up their spiritual life during the holidays. We give a holiday brief on beating holiday blues and are allowed a privileged place to have a teaching moment. Walker emphasized “It is a multi-faith community – I’m not preaching and not trying to convert anyone – just giving care.”
“Veterans are huge on volunteerism,” he added. “We offer Places to serve – they want to do that – want to make a difference. Airmen are by nature ready to fill voids, fix problems and tackle needs. It’s part of our culture.”
He noted their ‘Home for the Holidays’ program that ensures no airman will be alone unless they choose to be during the holidays. “Families will invite them over to hang out just as if you were kinfolks during that holiday.”
“We also have and angel tree ministry and a shoe box ministry. People put together toiletries, socks, gloves and other winter items in a shoe box to be handed out to the needy in the area.”
He added that they reach out to the elderly as well. “There are quite a few retirement homes in the area with vets who were stationed in the area and had to go to an assisted living facility. Many are far away from family, and we go visit them on holidays and other times… to let them know they are not forgotten.”
Beyond Church Walls
"This is the most exciting ministry I've ever done in my life! Walker said. "Where else may we share compassion, ethical advice or boost spirits, equally-welcomed by general officers or young airmen? We are bringing a faith dynamic into a very brutal place… and we’re out there wherever they are.”
“That might be in a bunker during a rocket attack letting them know we’re gonna persevere and get back home, being compassionate and encouraging - not saying ‘suck it up buttercup.’ It could be on top of a C-130 talking with a young 20-21 year old getting the news his grand parent passed away and there’s no way he can go home for that. Imagine having a worship service under an American flag in a foreign country, where just a few hours before there was a mortar attack on base or suicide bomber attack at the gate. We’re allowed to do our ministry everywhere!”
Walker added that churches should reach out to military personnel while they are home. “Invite armed service members to participate in leadership positions. They are trained to lead from 18 years old. Tap them and say ‘we know you are a responsible leader because of who you are and what you’ve been trained to do.’ They will be the greatest servant leaders you’ve ever had. Invite them to share their story - no one takes the time to do that anymore. Time is the greatest gift anyone can give. It breaks my heart when people don’t want to take the time to hear what they went through and how meaningful and powerful it was.”
If you would like to learn more about Chaplain Captain Buddy Walker’s ministry, he can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See More Articles in This Series