Serving the spirit

  • Published
  • By Howdy Stout
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Parishioners put the finishing touch on the base chapel last week in anticipation of additional services during the Christmas holidays.

Like many this holiday season, the chaplains and the chapel staff will be busy. Both Protestant and Catholic services are scheduled, including Midnight Mass and Candlelight Services on Christmas Eve.

"The Christmas Eve worship services are always full," says Chaplain (Capt.) Scott Nupson, senior Protestant chaplain. "Both Catholic and Protestant parishes are especially busy this time of year."

The Catholic program includes an Immaculate Conception Mass Dec. 8, Reconciliation service Dec. 15, Children's Christmas Eve Mass on Dec. 24 with a later Midnight Mass and a Christmas Day Mass Dec. 25. There will also be a Vigil of Motherhood of Mary Mass on Dec. 31 followed by a Motherhood of Mary Mass on Jan. 1.

The Protestant program features a Christmas cantata Dec. 13, a Christmas party and appreciation dinner Dec. 16 and a Christmas Eve Candlelight service Dec. 24.

Busy as the chapel will be, it is par for the course, says Chaplain Nupson, one of seven chaplains assigned full-time to Tinker including an active duty reservist in the 507th Air Refueling Wing and a Navy chaplain. In addition to conducting regular services, the chaplains also minister to outlying units at Tinker and provide counseling for Airmen and their families. And they do it all with fewer chaplains and assistants than ever before.

"Recently we've been especially short-handed with chaplain assistants," Chaplain Nupson says. "We've had to rely on our IMA Staff Sgt. Lisa Vincelette and the 137th ARW Guard unit lent us Staff Sgt. Joshua Barry for several weeks. Without their help, it would have been next to impossible to stay open."

Although the chaplains are assigned to support the spiritual needs of active-duty Airmen, they also minister to the large civilian community at Tinker.

"In a crisis we don't turn them away," Chaplain Nupson says. "We are manned for AD members and their families but we often are called upon to offer help and encouragement."

The base chapel is also supported by places of worship in the local community from a variety of faith backgrounds including Jewish and Muslim religions. Base chaplains often participate in the local ministerial gatherings and are assured of assistance in the event the base chapel is unavailable or overwhelmed in an emergency.

"If needed in a emergency situation, we would rely heavily on our local congregations to help us," Chaplain Nupson says.

Religious invocations are a regular part of Air Force ceremonies and chaplains are often called to bless events and endeavors. It is, Chaplain Nupson says, a reflection of the US military's long tradition of having chaplains being an integral part of its organization -- a tradition started by George Washington, who included the first military chaplain in the Continental Army. It is, Chaplain Nupson says, to provide for the spiritual needs of military members and their families.

"In the military, we're here to provide for the freedom of religion," he says.

But don't think that the chaplains wait at the chapel for folks to seek them out.

The base chaplains and their assistants are assigned to various units around base, spending regular time with each to oversee spiritual welfare and to meet the needs of individual Airmen.

"We work hard to maintain regular office hours out in the units rather than sit in the chapel," he says.

The chapel is also the driving force behind the Latté Lounge, which opened earlier this year. Computers, games and the ubiquitous coffee machine provide amenities to young Airmen looking for an enjoyable Friday or Saturday night.

"It's a great facility," Chaplain Nupson says. "It's a place for Airmen to meet. It builds a community and provides a safe, healthy environment. It's a great place for Airmen to hang out."

Although currently only open on the weekends, he says the Latté Lounge will soon be open during the week, just in time to combat the post-holiday "winter blahs" that Chaplain Nupson says often affect people in January and February.

Local retirees also play a part in helping the chapel meet the needs of its parishioners. He praised, too, the young and old churchgoers at Tinker who help Tinker's chapel meet the needs of the base.

"They're fantastic," Chaplain Nupson says. "It's a good group of folks. Some have attended this chapel for 40 years. Yet we have young Airmen who are brand new to the Air Force, and young couples with children who attend as well. So there's a big cross section of folks which provides all the elements of a family."