FM chaplains grow in numbers, diversity

Harry “Bud” Ansted first became a chaplain in 1952.

By Jeff Finley

The Free Methodist Church – USA has 120 endorsed chaplains with accomplishments too numerous to report here, but few can match the record of Harry “Bud” Ansted who is among the many current and former chaplains attending General Conference 2011.

Ansted became an Air Force chaplain in 1952 and retired in 1974, but he hasn’t been taking it easy in retirement.

He spent five years as a volunteer assisting missionaries in Africa, served as administrator of the Warm Beach Senior Community and became the endorsing agent of the Free Methodist Chaplains Association – the position now held by Rex Carpenter.

“You are involved with people in their total life – their recreation, their housing, their assignments, everything about them,” Ansted said. “As a pastor, for example, you see them once a week, or maybe they come to prayer meeting. As a military chaplain, you’re with them where they live and where they work.”

Carpenter said nearly 80 chaplains and spouses are attending the chaplain meetings that began Monday prior to the official start of GC ’11. Bishop Matt Thomas, who oversees the association, said that number is more than double the chaplain turnout of a typical General Conference.

Carpenter’s job is to recruit, screen, encourage, coach, mentor and correspond with chaplains. He and the FM Chaplains Association officers provide an annual professional development conference, and he provides a monthly newsletter to encourage praise and prayer support for our chaplains.

Along with military and hospital positions, the association includes chaplains serving at horse and NASCAR races, college campuses and outdoor communities. Some FM chaplains specialize in helping veterans with disabilities or post-traumatic stress disorder while other chaplains focus on children and families.

A chaplain’s role has a distinct challenge that differs from the experience of ordained pastors assigned to local churches.

“You’re not surrounded by Christian people,” Carpenter said.

William Leslie of Dunkirk, N.Y., is a hospice chaplain.

William Leslie, a hospice chaplain from Dunkirk, N.Y., said hospice chaplains are not allowed to evangelize because they are hired to support people of all faiths, but he believes chaplains fulfill Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

“Matthew 25 drives my life,” said Leslie, who also is involved in prison ministry.

Free Methodist chaplains become pastors to people who may not otherwise enter an FM church. Through Leslie’s support of families, he has been asked to perform baptisms, funerals and marriages.

Carpenter said valuable resources for FM chaplains include two books “Chaplaincy: Being God’s Presence in Closed Communities” by E. Dean Cook and “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon: Ministering to Returning Combat Veterans” by David A. Thompson and Darlene Wetterstrom. Cook spoke Wednesday at the Marston Memorial Historical Center’s luncheon, and Thompson spoke to the chaplains Tuesday.