The Pastor’s Searchlight—January, 2020:

The following is an excerpt from The One Year Book of Amazing Stories, by Robert Petterson:

“In an era of increasing polarization, it might do us all some good to remember an amazing act of heroism many decades ago. It took place during an era of nation against nation, race against race, and religion against religion, an era that began with ethnic cleansing and ended in the Holocaust. On Feb. 3, 1943, an army transport ship, the Dorchester, was ferrying 900 combat soldiers across the North Atlantic to join in the fight against Nazi Germany. It wasn’t an easy passage. The winter crossing was stormy, masking those aboard feel like they were riding a rodeo bull. Young boys in uniform were both homesick and seasick in hot, airtight compartments below deck. But their queasy claustrophobia would soon be forgotten when torpedoes from a German sub slammed into the Dorchester. The captain knew that his vessel was going down, and he sounded orders to abandon ship with all haste. The pandemonium was heightened by the utter blackness of the stormy night. Young men were desperately searching for life jackets and trying to find lifeboats on a ship sinking in icy seas a hundred fifty miles from Greenland. In the midst of this chaos, four military chaplains became immortal heroes: Father John Washington, a New Jersey Roman Catholic; Reverend Clark Poling, a Reformed Church of America chaplain from Ohio; Reverend George Fox, a Pennsylvania Methodist; and Rabbi Alexander Goode, a Jewish leader from Brooklyn. Together, they did what chaplains are supposed to do as they guided soldiers to evacuation points, whispered courage in their ears, and helped them into lifeboats or over the side of the sinking ship. When life jackets ran out, the four chaplains peeled theirs off and gave them away.”

“Nearly 700 men died in the frigid waters that night, but more than 200 survived—some wearing life jackets handed to them by the chaplains. One soldier said that he was going back to retrieve his gloves, but Rabbi Goode insisted that he take his. Witnesses remember seeing those chaplains for the last time, linking arms together and praying as the ship disappeared from sight—a Catholic priest, a Reformed pastor, a Methodist preacher, and a Jewish rabbi. They may have come from different regions of America, voted for different political candidates, believed disparate theologies, and worshipped with dissimilar liturgies, but they believed in the same God, fought under the same flag, and were willing to die for young men whose views and lifestyles they may not have embraced. It’s no wonder that they were posthumously awarded one of the highest honors this nation can give to its military heroes.”

“In an age of intolerance, when almost anyone who doesn’t agree with us is dismissed as an enemy to be ridiculed, we would do well to dust off the amazing story of four chaplains who linked arms together in unity to pay the ultimate sacrifice for others. If it causes any of us to become less divisive, the retelling of this story will be well worth it. We might even benefit from something Malcolm Forbes said: Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.”

Earlier in my years at St. Paul’s UCC, I participated several years consecutively in a Chapel of Four Chaplains celebration memorial service/concert in Erie, through which we raised funds for the creation of a memorial stained-glass window (found in the Erie VA Hospital Chapel) depicting these heroic chaplains. We are a nation founded on the courageous and selfless principles of these four heroes, in spite of our current trends of divisiveness and “party politics.” They seriously committed to the dream of true democracy and the melting pot of the American nation…a confluence of ethnicity, race, religion, personality, age, gender, sexuality, politics and freedoms. The backbone of their commitment was ultimately seen in their selflessness! What about you and me…are we as committed to Christ’s ideal: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-4)” May this year be all about living a crystal-clear, 20/20 vision of what Christ taught and lived, instead of partisanship and “I’m right—you’re wrong; don’t confuse me with the facts” mentality!

Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? (Malachi 2:10)

In Christ, Pastor Dave (