On the Front Lines: SEU Alum’s New Chaplaincy Initiative
Being sensitive to God’s call has always been important to Chaplain (Col.) Richard Quinn ’78, who retired this past October following 34 years of service as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.
As a senior in high school, Richard planned to pursue a degree in biology and was driving to take a science CLEP exam at a local community college when he sensed God speaking to him about his future in the ministry.
“I felt the call of God while driving, strong enough that I turned the car around and went back home. I got dressed and went down to the church, where I was the president of the youth group at the time,” Richard recalled.
Having been encouraged for years by his mother to attend Bible college, Richard enrolled at Southeastern University, where he pursued a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and a minor in music.
Professor Darryl Goldman was one of several at Southeastern who would impact the direction of Richard’s life. Professor Goldman taught at Southeastern while waiting to enter active duty as a chaplain and led a summer mission trip to Gulfport, Mississippi, which Richard joined.
The next year, Professor Goldman, dressed in his Army beret and jump boots, having since entered active duty, returned to Southeastern to speak during missions week. This was one of Richard’s first times hearing or even thinking about the possibility of working as a chaplain.
Following their graduation from Southeastern, Richard and his new bride, Margene (Wortz) ’78, moved to Hawaii, where she taught elementary school and he served as the youth pastor at Kailua Church and Christian School. Many of the children Richard and his wife worked with were from military families, stationed at the nearby Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station.
“Some of the guys were coming back pretty spiritually messed up,” Richard said of the Marines stationed there. Several who were part of Richard’s congregation had done back-to-back deployments to Subic Bay in the Philippines, an island nation under martial law and characterized by unrest and violence.
“Subic Bay was a nasty place. What I got from the six Marines from our church who went was they were getting no support from their chaplains. It was a rough time. That’s when I decided to join the military to be a chaplain and take care of service members and their families.”During his 34-year career in chaplaincy, Richard had the opportunity to minister all across the globe. However, he cites the initial years of his career, while he was waiting to enter active duty, as being some of the most critical.
During his 34-year career in chaplaincy, Richard had the opportunity to minister all across the globe. However, he cites the initial years of his career, while he was waiting to enter active duty, as being some of the most critical.
“I realize that those years were some of the most powerful for what I learned as a young pastor,” Richard said, reflecting on his time as the installation chaplain at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, then known as the Kwajalein Missile Range. The island population of 2,300 Americans consisted of mostly civilian rocket scientists for the “Star Wars” initiative, family members and about a dozen military.
Some other highlights of Richard’s career include deploying to Central America during the Iran-Contra scandal — just one month after entering active duty — and serving in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm. During his final years in the Army, he also had the opportunity to help update the ecclesiastical supply system available to chaplains through the Defense Logistics Agency, a system Richard had helped to create in the late 1990s.
Now as Richard looks to the future, he is considering how to leverage the experience and know-how he gained as a chaplain in the Army.
“I’ve got all of this experience that has been pumped into me for the past 34 years. How can I use what no one except someone else in my boots would know? Rather than go back to a civilian pastorate or some other form of administrative position or job, the real next step is to try to leverage what I’ve gained of systems knowledge in the federal government, ministry and legislative law and to try to incorporate ministries into places in the federal government that currently do not have them,” Richard said.
The U.S. State Department is his first target. According to Richard, there are approximately 235 diplomatic missions and 12,500 diplomats, plus all their families, around the globe — but there is no chaplaincy to provide support to them.
“Diplomats and their families go through many of the same stresses that a military family would go through when they’re in a foreign country. They have restrictions, they have separation time and they have fear,” Richard explained.Richard aims to initially create a corps of 15 chaplains in the State Department. To assist with the endeavor, he formed a firm called Chaplaincy Solutions Research and Consulting.
He aims to initially create a corps of 15 chaplains in the State Department. To assist with the endeavor, he formed a firm called Chaplaincy Solutions Research and Consulting. For this new chaplain initiative to move forward, the State Department would need to accept the concept, the U.S. Senate write and approve the legislation and the U.S. Congress authorize the funding.
“My piece is to be faithful to God’s calling,” Richard said, “to be available and to be wise and shrewd as the opportunities happen.”