By Sharon Mager and Scott Callaham
ANNAPOLIS, Md.—Weems Creek Church member and North American Mission Board (NAMB)-endorsed Chaplain Scott Callaham was recently assigned a three-year tour of duty at the United States Naval Academy. On Easter Sunday, Callaham had the privilege of baptizing by immersion for the first time in the 101-year history of the United States Naval Academy Chapel. Nine Christian midshipmen, six in the morning and three at the evening contemporary service, received immersion baptism in a decorated physical therapy tub.
Callaham said he’s touched that young believers, some of whom are now officers serving in the Navy and Marine Corps, boldly testified to their faith in such a public manner. He’s also pleased that many non-Christians witnessed the experience.
“Immersion has a very evangelistic impact, especially when it’s performed with people who are not Christians in attendance. Going through the act tells the whole story, sometimes better than with words. That believer gets buried with Christ and rises. He or she identifies with Christ right now in faith, testifying to Christ’s resurrection in the past and to the believer’s own resurrection in the future. It’s pretty powerful,” he says.
Callaham graduated from the Academy with the class of 1993. He arrived as a youngster fresh out of a high school in Houston, Texas. He smiles as he thinks back to his first days when he had his head shaved, swore his oath of service, and began his days with rigorous physical activity at 5:45 a.m. that seemed not to abate until late in the evenings.
“I remember my plebe summer and the ‘old’ chaplains huffing and puffing as they ran with us,” Callaham laughs. He recalls the encouragement he felt when the chaplains cheered for him to keep going. This summer, Callaham will climb out of bed voluntarily at 5 a.m. to run with the plebes. He’s now one of the “more mature” chaplains and admits occasionally huffing and puffing himself.
Callaham grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ as a child. He attended the Academy, and then served as a fast attack nuclear submarine officer in the Navy. God called him to become a Navy Chaplain, so he resigned his commission upon the completion of his service obligation. Following studies at Southwestern Seminary, he returned to active duty as a chaplain. His last assignment was on an aircraft carrier in Washington State.
“This is the best job I’ll ever have,” Callaham says.
“Military personnel are intensely interested in solving their problems and doing it in a framework that includes their faith.” As a military chaplain, Callaham ensures complete confidentiality. Being in an organization that places such a high value on the free exercise of religion allows speaking to people very candidly and aboveboard, Callaham explains.
For example, while counseling a sailor on the aircraft carrier who had some problems, Callaham discovered that the young man had grown up in a Mormon family. “My role is to protect his free exercise of religion per the United States Constitution,” he explains. “So I said, ‘If you want to speak with someone with a Mormon viewpoint, I’m not that person. I can refer you to someone else. Or, if you prefer, I can tell you how I address this issue as a follower of Jesus.”
He’s encouraged that he gets to work with people from a broad spectrum of religious backgrounds, including the large numbers of sailors and marines who do not actively profess religious faith.
Callaham says that the popular stereotyped image of a counselor waiting in a secluded office for people to come see him does not really apply to chaplain ministry. “The most effective chaplain ministry is proactive, in which the chaplain thoroughly participates in the life of the people served.” While aboard the aircraft carrier, Callaham remembers walking through an engineering area, checking in with people and letting them know that the chaplains cared about them. Later, a young woman from that department scheduled an appointment to discuss a problem she was having, prompted by the fact that she had heard that Callaham had walked through the engineering spaces.
Callaham reflects on his days with the Annapolis Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) when he was a midshipman. He points to a portrait of Naval Academy BSM founding director Dick Bumpass and says that Bumpass was a great influence on him as a young adult. “I didn’t realize the depth of the effect Dick had on me at the time,” Callaham reflects.
The BSM, he says, steeps midshipmen in a Christian worldview and complements the work of the local church. He especially enjoyed coming to the historic alumni-sponsored BSM house. Callaham says it was a place of refuge to get away and relax and be in a Christian environment.
“College is a crucial time in people’s lives. We’ve all seen the Barna study that says when a kid goes out the door after high school there’s an 80 percent chance of his not returning to church. Here is a ministry that engages young people at that critical time of questioning—what does God say about this? What is the Christ-like thing to do in this circumstance? What does it mean to follow God as a naval officer? I am thrilled to protect their religious freedom so that they can seek the answers to these questions.”
* This article presents personal opinions and perspectives and does not reflect the views of the United States Navy or the United States Naval Academy.