Anna Page is in her second year of postulancy for ordination in the Diocese of Massachusetts and her second year of seminary at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. Unlike most of her peers, however, Page is also a commissioned officer in the United States Army, serving in the Reserves while going through the ordination process, with plans to eventually serve on active duty as a military chaplain and an ordained Episcopal priest.
Page said, in an interview, that her initial and immediate understanding of her call to this ministry is “being a light for people in dark places and helping them become their best selves within that, wrestling with the reality of suffering, the reality of evil, but then also helping them come into the joy and the warmth that can be felt by living into a God of love.”
Growing up in a faith tradition in which women were not permitted to hold ordained positions, Page left the church as a teenager in high school and then came back as an undergraduate at Wellesley College when she felt like something was missing in her life. She discovered the Episcopal Church.
“I could feel that there was a sense of welcome, a sense of community, a sense of inclusion, and for the first time in my life I saw women and queer folk in positions of ordained leadership and church leadership,” she said. “These were aspects that growing up I was not exposed to, but in my heart I always knew that Christianity should be a place where we have persons of all identity welcomed into the community without question.”
Page said she believes that she would not have any understanding of the power of faith in somebody’s life and the power of the community of the church had she not gone through the process of leaving faith and coming back herself.
“It really opened my eyes to recognizing why it is so important for me and for many to be able to have a higher purpose and believe that there is something more than ourselves in this world,” she said. “Finding myself in darkness and needing light to bring me out of that made me realize that, based on my gifts and talents that God has given me, I am able to be that person for others.”
While serving their own faith groups in the Army, chaplains also ensure and provide the means for others to observe their own faith in accordance with United States law under the protection of the free exercise of religion, according to the Army’s website. Federal chaplains of the Episcopal Church serve under the bishop suffragan for armed forces and federal ministries.
Chaplain (Colonel) Paul Minor serves as co-rector of All Saints’ Church in Belmont while also serving as a senior Army chaplain in the Massachusetts National Guard. Minor explained in an interview that military chaplains play a special role, set apart as “non-combatants in a combatant organization.” Minor said that, for a religious leader, this can present an internal conflict worth exploring since military action does not always seem very loving.
“The thing that to my mind is critical in this justice and love divide is that we [chaplains] do cross the boundaries, that we do have to go into the world, wherever that is,” he said. “Even if we’ve determined that we don’t like what people are doing, it’s still so important that we have a ministry to them.”
Minor said that Episcopal chaplains offer something unique in that “we have a kind of inherent openness. We’re not afraid because somebody isn’t in church. We can engage with them, we can meet them where they are.”
Chaplain (Major) James M. Hairston, who serves in Massachusetts as 26th maneuver enhancement brigade chaplain, is a postulant in the process toward being received as a priest in the Episcopal Church, having been originally ordained in the Baptist tradition. Hairston, like Minor, spoke in an interview of showing people the love of Christ by meeting them where they are.
“For those of a different faith tradition my goal is to help them dig deeper into their faith for them to be able to grow. It helps me grow in mine while I’m helping them grow in theirs,” he said. The two main jobs of chaplains in the military, he said, are to “perform and provide. We perform the tenets of our faith, and we provide the tools necessary for someone to worship in their own tradition,” Hairston said.
As part of her formation, Anna Page was in El Salvador this past summer working for the National Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador, learning from local pastors about pastoral care, community development and the importance of youth ministry in El Salvador, since keeping children off the streets and protecting them from gang violence is an explicit focus of that church.
While Page was there she had the opportunity to spend a weekend with her Anglican counterparts: She went to a worship service with the bishop of El Salvador, the Rt. Rev. David Alvarado, on a Sunday morning and experienced a powerful moment of realization while worshiping with familiar liturgy in a different language.
“I knew that I was part of something bigger than myself, but to see that played out in that moment just again confirmed to me that this is so unique to the Anglican Communion, so unique to our faith tradition, but so beautiful and powerful and almost sacramental in that sense of having this as an outward sign of community while recognizing that God and the Spirit are constantly working to connect all of our communities throughout the globe, and it’s moments like that that I’m constantly being exposed to,” Page said.
Page said that in her own life, the Eucharist has allowed her to feel connected to different communities, and being able to offer that sacrament to people will be especially important in a military setting, she believes, when often people are dispersed geographically and may be feeling disconnected from God.
She said she is looking forward to her future as an Episcopal chaplain in the U.S. Army and being able to fulfill her mission of bringing light to others.
“The Episcopal Church enables us to be connectors, and as long as we show that radical commitment to love and are able to speak truth to power and be with people as they are, then that is, as I understand it, the primary light that I can give to people in that darkness.”
--Bridget K. Wood