Stories of Faith in Action

Chaplain on the Front Line

Chaplain

Ministering to some 700 National Guard and Army troops during New York City’s severe COVID-19 outbreak might seem daunting.

But not to Anthony Stephens, an ELCA pastor and an Army chaplain.

Stephens said,

“In many ways, there’s a feeling of defenselessness against this virus, We were all exposed before social distancing, and we can’t escape that.“

Since 2016, Stephens has served as senior chaplain

to Joint Task Force Empire Shield, part of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

The task force protects the city’s bridges, airports, tunnels and train stations from security threats, and has also responded to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Stephens helped troops deal with their anxiety over serving on the front lines and possibly contracting the virus. He also counseled those with family members or friends who were sick, jobless or challenged by other hardships.

“In many ways, there’s a feeling of defenselessness against this virus,” Stephens said. “We were all exposed before social distancing, and we can’t escape that. There’s a sense that you can wash your hands just so many times; that we’re in God’s hands now.”

With a Master of Divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Stephens maintains a private counseling practice and, as a pastor, chaplain and counselor, has ministered to people in parishes, prisons, hospitals, counseling centers and the military.

Of all his assignments, the closest to his heart is his current role as a New York Army National Guard chaplain, where he holds the rank of major.

“Back in seminary, a Navy recruiter showed up and we talked and prayed,” Stephens said. “I knew I’d be called someday to military chaplaincy.” Mission Support funds contribute to ELCA chaplain ministry.

His diverse ministry experiences have equipped him to address the troops’ spiritual needs

“Back in seminary, a Navy recruiter showed up and we talked and prayed,” Stephens said. “I knew I’d be called someday to military chaplaincy.” Mission Support funds contribute to ELCA chaplain ministry.

“Nothing that I’ve done in my life has been wasted. My experiences have been used in sermons, to be less judgmental and to give me perspective.”