U.S. NAVY CHRISTIAN CHAPLAIN CORPS SOFT EPAULETS

A review of the history of the Navy Chaplaincy conducted in 1881 revealed that of the 101 ordained Chaplains (58 were not ordained), just seven denominations—all Christian—were represented. These included 42 Protestant Episcopals, 22 Methodists, 14 Presbyterians, 12 Baptists, 7 Congregationalists, 3 Unitarians, and 1 Universalist.

But the mid-19th and early 20th centuries saw the birth of many new Christian denominations. While some faded into obscurity and others remained miniscule when compared to other Christian denominations, several grew to the point that the Navy recognized their ecclesiastical endorsements and gave their ordained members who met other requirements to serve as Chaplains in the Navy.

One of the first of these was perhaps the most controversial. In 1917, The Christian Science Board of Directors, backed by the endorsements of several Congressmen, the governor of Massachusetts, and the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge (Masonic) of Massachusetts, petitioned the Navy to appoint a Christian Scientist to the Chaplaincy. On January 19, 1918 Richard Joseph Davis of Boston became the Navy’s first Christian Science Chaplain—but it was a move that was met with some opposition. One reason was that Davis was not ordained in the Christian Science church. Further, he had not received the three-year theological training that the Navy had incorporated as a requirement for all Chaplains. Davis served for just two years as a Chaplain before resigning and joining the Naval Reserve.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons, was represented in the Navy Chaplaincy for the first time in 1941 with the appointment of John William Boud. He entered active duty on September 15, 1941 and was stationed in San Diego and Hawaii throughout World War II.

Although it is unclear when the Navy commissioned the first Seventh Day Adventist as a Chaplain, there is little question as to who is the most famous Naval Chaplain from that faith. Commissioned in 1976 and stationed at Fleet Religious Support Activity in Norfolk, Virginia, Barry C. Black went on to become a Rear Admiral serving as the Chief of Chaplains from 2000 to 2003. He followed this achievement by becoming not on the first Seventh Day Adventist but also the first African-American to be named Chaplain of the United States Senate, a position he assumed in 2003 and which he still holds as of this writing (June, 2016).

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