Atsugi parishioners at odds with chaplain
September 18, 2008
Two groups at Naval Air Facility Atsugi are unhappy with the command chaplain in the wake of changes made to their religious programs.
About 100 Atsugi Catholics aired concerns about Cmdr. Douglas Rosander in a Sept. 2 meeting with base commander Capt. Justin T. Cooper, base officials said. Rosander removed Catholic statues from the base chapel Aug. 28. It was the latest in a series of actions taken by Rosander that upset the Catholics, according to Roger Avery, Atsugi parish council president of seven years.
Among other parishioner concerns were the relocation and downsizing of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the discontinued use of Navy vehicles to support the Homeless Ministry, an off-base, multidenominational goodwill program the base has supported for 15 years.
Cooper said he took notes on the Catholics’ concerns and will address the issues in a meeting planned for Friday.
Base officials confirmed that in September 2007, Cooper asked Rosander to "review all the chapel programs to ensure they were operating within Navy regulations and in accordance with current policies and procedures." Rosander had just taken over the position of command chaplain.
Rosander defended his actions in an e-mail last week to Stars and Stripes, saying, "Religious ministry within the Department of the Navy is guided by Navy regulations. These regulations have been written wisely over time and ensure fair treatment and respect for all religious faith groups they are applied equally to all. This is a good thing."
He added that every faith group at the chapel made adjustments and improvements to their programs following his review.
The chaplain would not disclose his religious affiliation to Stars and Stripes but, according to the Navy, Rosander belongs to the Presbyterian Church of America.
Another group to experience major changes was the Community Christian Fellowship, which began worshipping at the chapel in October 2002. Pastor Cheryl Jackson said Rosander told her and other civilian leaders of the 150-member group they needed to leave because they weren’t military members.
"Everybody left the next Sunday and decided they weren’t going back," Jackson said Monday. "I’m just really disappointed and concerned about the spiritual condition of that community because a lot of people gave up on church altogether. We had people of all different ethnic groups from all over Japan coming to worship with us. That whole group of people are now displaced."
Jackson said some members continue to meet off base in Yamato City but in smaller numbers.
Base officials did not respond to questions Tuesday concerning the Community Christian Fellowship situation. The Catholic parishioners said in a letter to base officials that a meeting with Cooper was "imperative since all attempts to consult with [the] current command chaplain have been met with negative results.
Rosander replied in writing to each of the Catholics’ concerns on Feb. 9. A copy of that letter was sent to Stripes. In it, he said "numerous aspects of the Command Religious Program had drifted off course." Referring to Catholic statues that were removed, he cited official Navy and Defense Department instructions, which state in part that the "liturgical and theological understanding that is permanently reflected or given an image in these facilities must be that which is held in common by all religions."
Avery said Atsugi’s Catholics were not satisfied with Rosander’s response and remain frustrated with his approach.
"He just doesn’t seem to have that personal, chaplain-type feel," Avery says of Rosander. "He’s more obsessed with regulation being met than what’s going on with the religious side."
In an e-mail to Stripes regarding the Sept. 2 meeting, Cooper said "most of the issues revolved around rumors and misinformation, and my primary goal was to understand the concerns from a passionate congregation. Working together within the community, I am confident we can resolve the issues."