Orthodox priest takes on much more than expected
June 24, 2007
Pacific edition, Sunday, June 24, 2007
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Duesenberry thought serving as a Navy chaplain would be as simple as being an Orthodox priest who wears a uniform.
He was wrong.
Instead, he discovered that being a chaplain entails a lot more.
Duesenberry is an Eastern Orthodox Christian — a faith most similar to the Roman Catholic Church but with some major differences.
Eastern Orthodoxy is not under leadership of the pope, and the church’s priests can be married if they marry before they are ordained, he said.
After seminary, Duesenberry, who is married, became a priest at a small parish in Pennsylvania for three years. To make ends meet, he also held a secular job as an insurance agent.
But there was something missing.
“I wanted to get away from the secular job and go into full-time ministry,” he said.
A phone call from a seminary colleague who was an Army chaplain got him started on the path toward military service.
The idea of ministering to sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen attracted him to the Navy. He soon found that the job of a chaplain was different than he had imagined.
“I had the idea … that I would have a parish in the Navy community,” said Duesenberry.
But his first command was more about his duties as a chaplain than that of an Orthodox priest: liturgy, sacramental care and ministering to Orthodox Christians, he said.
“So, I was trying to find out where does my being an Orthodox priest fit in with my duties as a Navy chaplain,” he said.
Since then, he said, he has ministered to Orthodox personnel.
“When we go places, we look for opportunities to provide ministry to people of our faith,” he said.
Such was the case during his tour in Kuwait from April to October of 2006. There, he was the team officer charged with ministering to Air Force patients in Kuwait City.
While there, he visited Air Force and Army bases in the area to provide worship services for Orthodox Christians.
He has learned that the Navy Chaplain Corps works within the restrictions of his faith, including the fact that he cannot fill in for another faith’s service.
“In the absence of any other chaplains, we can provide general Christian prayers,” he said.
In almost nine years of service, Duesenberry said he has “never been asked to do anything that was against my beliefs as an Orthodox Christian.”
And most importantly, he said, his chaplaincy has provided opportunities beyond his expectations.
“It’s very encouraging,” he said. “I know that I’m giving [the military community] something they wouldn’t get if I wasn’t here — that sense of worship as a community.”