Naval District Washington (NDW) chapels are closed on all installations throughout the national capital region to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but chaplains are proving their worth by continuing to offer spiritual guidance in non-traditional ways.
Since the closure, personnel throughout the region have contacted chaplains seeking guidance and resources during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Despite places of worship being closed, chaplains remain available for counseling over the phone.
“I’ve had more than a few people reach out to me,” said Cmdr. Matthew Stevens, NDW deputy chaplain. “I’ve been listening and collecting information from other chaplains in the region and we are all having regular contact from our folks. We’ve had people ask general resiliency questions and a lot of them are searching for peace amidst anxiety related to their well-being and the well-being of those who they love. People we come across are in similar situations and come to us for a listening ear and voice of counsel.”
Much like the people calling them for advice on how to cope with it, the chaplains themselves are dealing with the effects of their lives being disrupted by the need for physical distancing.
“As a married person with a family, what I’m experiencing during this is multiple rooflines converging. When I think about my life, I think about my work life within NDW, I’m a doctoral student and I do counseling working outside the Navy. I have my identity as a stepparent, my identity as a husband, as a son and as a brother. Before COVID-19, I had a buffer between each one of things. In a telework environment, all these rooflines are smashed together. When I come out of my office in my house, I’ll just deal with a religious ministries issue in the region and I got into being a parent to my special-needs adult son. Or I come out of a call with my mom and jump back into working on the Crisis Action Team within NDW. I’m going through what everybody else is going through and it’s not easy,” said Stevens.
With heavy coverage of the pandemic and death tolls on television, radio and social media, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling deputy chaplain Maj. Brandon Parker says it is important to find positives in the negative.
“I’m challenging people to get back to some of the basics,” said Maj. Brandon Parker, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling deputy chaplain. “I’m really big on things that are praiseworthy. I encourage people to find out what’s going on in the world, but only through quality news sources and not just opinions. I think people should look for the good things even in bad situations. Maybe they’re getting to spend more time with family or read more books than they’re accustomed. People need to look at some positive news stories as well to create a sense of balance.”
Religious holidays Ramadan, Passover and Easter all take place in April and due to COVID-19, people will have to forego gathering in large groups in celebration.
“Physical distancing is keeping us from coming together and doing these sorts of things together in the same space. We have to find new ways of connecting and participating so that we can maintain that connection. Whether it’s a daily email, text message or a nod across the fence line, we need to maintain our connectedness with each other,” said Stevens.
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