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First Adventist woman commissioned to serve as US Navy chaplain

Berrien Springs, Michigan, 11 August (ENI)

Adrienne Townsend has been officially sworn in as the first Seventh-day Adventist woman to serve as an active duty chaplain in the United States Navy, 35 years after the first female became a chaplain in the U.S. forces.

Lieutenant Junior Grade Townsend said her four years as associate dean of women at Adventist-owned Andrews University prepared her for the new calling which she described as a "huge mission field" where she could minister to similarly aged young people.

"I feel God has laid the foundation for me here to go out into the military and reach those who need to hear about Christ," Townsend said, the Adventist News Network reported on 11 August. "I want Christ to be glorified and God to be seen as real for everyone I come in contact with."

Since 1973, when the navy commissioned Lt Dianna Pohlman as its first female chaplain, women have taken more religious leadership positions in the U.S. military. By 1993, 30 female chaplains were serving on active duty in U.S. armed forces.

Townsend, who holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews, has a background in education and psychology. While studying theology, Townsend met a Navy recruiter and first felt called to become a chaplain.

Townsend’s post would encourage other Adventist women who feel similarly called to ministry within the military and who "find the traditional roles limited," said Chaplain (Colonel) Gary R. Councell, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries.

Once stationed, Townsend’s duties will include leading services of worship, providing counselling and visitation services and performing ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, the Adventist news service reported.

Chaplains from around the United States and overseas had ended a meeting for the Chaplain Corps Conference on 2 July to recognise the 35th anniversary of women clergy serving in the Navy’s Chaplain Corps and included as a guest speaker the Rev. Dianna Pohlman-Bell, the first female chaplain in the military.

It would take almost a year after her commissioning before the next woman chaplain was appointed to of any branch of service, Navy Compass, an official U.S. Navy newspaper reported. Pohlman-Bell recalled there were many issues facing the Chaplain Corps at that time, including racial and gender differences, drug and alcohol abuse and integration of diverse personnel.

Another guest speaker, retired chief of naval operations Admiral Vernon Clark, said, "The world’s watching you. They want to know if this Corps is going represent their values. It is about a group of people who believe in ‘the call’."