Voluntary Lay Leaders Provide Spiritual Guidance for Deployed Submariners
GROTON, Conn. – For nearly 59 years religious lay leaders have performed a valuable role for commanding officers on ships without chaplains. On submarines, the volunteers help to meet religious needs according to a senior chaplain in New London, Jan. 9.
Since the days of World War II there were only about a dozen faith groups officially represented by the military, but today, more than 200 faith groups have endorsed personnel to the Armed Forces Chaplains Board in order to accommodate religious practices by service members of their own faith.
The first official guidance published for lay leaders was issued on July 1, 1952 by Adm. Arthur W. Radford, then commander-in-chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet. In 1990, the U.S. Navy established lay-leader services as a means of meeting religious-ministry requirements in the absence of chaplains, but under the supervision of a chaplain.
"There are normally two lay leaders on attack submarines, one Catholic and one Protestant. On occasion, there may be a Jewish or LDS lay leader," said Cmdr. Robert McGaha, who is assigned to Naval Submarine Support Center New London. "Lay leaders on board a submarine provide religious services, in the absence of a chaplain, for their particular faith group. They lead Bible studies as well while underway. Their ministry is extremely important for the spiritual well being of shipmates who desire to practice their faith."
The three-man department at Naval Submarine Support Center New London provides monthly training for the Groton-based submarines who volunteer for the official collateral duty.
"The training helps lay leaders understand their role and equips them for the best ministry possible," said McGaha.
Lay leaders are appointed by the commanding officer of each submarine. "We make sure they are trained and ready to provide religious ministry to their shipmates," said the chaplain.
Culinary Specialist First Class (SS) Nadar P. Baker performs the duties of the lay leader aboard USS New Hampshire (SSN 778) and reflects on the importance of this collateral duty.
"I've learned if you want to do this job you really have to do it," said Baker. "You don't know what type of day your fellow Sailors have had and they rely on me to provide a worship service."
Baker reflected on how his worship services help his shipmates.
"I provide a valuable service to my fellow shipmates. Some guys go to church regularly and while underway they can participate in our ship's service and it helps them out and gets them through the week," said Baker.
Sailors who are interested in seeking the lay leader position are required to complete the following criteria for appointment: Interview by the command chaplain or, if no command chaplain, a chaplain in the unit's chain of command; recommendation from a division officer, leading chief petty officer, or department head; approval by the member's ecclesiastical body; completion of the lay-leader training program; recommendation from the interviewing chaplain to the commanding officer, and appointment in writing by the commanding officer.