A Chaplain’s Story

by
September 22nd, 2008

I was born a Christian Scientist in 1942 in Fort Worth, Texas. Both parents were attending regularly and had no other church receiving their devotion. Mom was raised a Lutheran, as would be expected since both her parents and stepfather were Danish, but she loved my dad enough to go to the church he wished for his two sons. Dad was a Christian Scientist because of his beloved mother, she was the committed CS (who died when he was 14). At that time my dad had 5 siblings, and a father struggling in the Depression with raising 6 children alone, ages 6 to 19. My name is “Ritchie” because on my Dad’s side all were Scots, from a strong Calvinist and Presbyterian vein of Christianity.

I never had any reason to be resentful of Christian Science. In fact, the net effect of CS on me is not a negative. Great people, devoted teachers and student activities guided by devoted young adult couples. Spiritual principles and all pointing to The Bible. It got me through grammar school, high school in Birmingham and into the University of Alabama (although I went astray awhile and did the “wild oats thing”). One summer during college, gosh, it may have been 1962, my drift was intersected by an unbelievable stint at a place in Colorado named “Sky Valley Ranch For Boys”, shepherded by a wonderful CS couple, Cap and Marianne Andrews. Boosted by the inspiration of the Rockies and the camp’s atmosphere of love, I finished up at Alabama, with a BA in 1964, and finished my education in law at Emory with an LLB/JD in 1966.

Then Christian Science did me the greatest favor in my life — allowing me to qualify for Chaplain Training. I mentored in Boston under Richard Chase, who became a hero in World War II while serving as a CS Army Chaplain, and his loving staff at the CS Armed Services Committee. I was educated for two years, ’66- ’68, at the Boston University School of Theology (Methodist), receiving a Masters in Christian Studies with emphasis in Church History. I met and married a beautiful and loving CS Wife from Roanoke, who was working in Boston at the Mother Church.

With my CS Ecclesiastical Endorsement (viz. ordination) in hand, I started U.S. Army service graduating in the top 10% of the 1968 Army Chaplain Class from Ft. Hamilton, NY and went fresh, wet-behind-the-ears, into the Fighting Army in the midst of the Vietnam War as a Captain, a fully qualified Protestant Christian Chaplain. We, my bride and I, were first stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC; next on to Ft. Benning, GA to the Army Jump School, on completion I received my Jump Wings as an official paratrooper; back to Bragg; orders to Vietnam for May 1969 through May 1970; resettle my wife for the year; she met me in Hawaii twice for R&R.

My wife had been encouraged by me to pursue her dream of becoming one of the First Woman Pilots in the USA to fly for a major airline, which she did with my urging, becoming the 8th Woman Airline Pilot in the US– in 1974 she was hired by Piedmont Airlines. My year in Vietnam was entirely sustained by my GOD and my CHURCH. I say with all humility I did them proud, because I became one of the most decorated CS Army Chaplains since World War II. For ten-and-a-half months I was in the fighting, giving six Christian services a week, carrying no weapon, serving my God and my men in the midst of the Hell that is war. I relied entirely upon the Lord and my Faith, and made it Home without a scratch.

We were then stationed at Ft. Dix, NJ for two great years, 1970-72, where I served as a Basic Training Brigade Chaplain, receiving awards for developing and presenting two weekend special events on post, one on drug prevention and the other on racial harmony. In May 1972, I finished my entire four years’ Army service to My God, My Faith and My Country. Tragedy struck in October of that year when the three-crew Navy jet being flown by my younger brother Brian (a married Clemson graduate with an infant daughter) crashed stateside, killing all three crew members. My beloved brother was buried with Honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
In January 1973 I returned to the practice of Law. Fortunately, I had been admitted to the Georgia Bar in May 1966. After establishing a new home in Atlanta, my wife and I encountered another testing time, ending with our divorce in 1975. I have carried on my practice of law in Georgia until now and intend on doing so for as long as my Heavenly Father allows. In 1979 I married a Catholic girl (11 years younger than me) and in 1987 we had our only child, my son Brian.

I had been moving away from Christian Science since 1983, although I kept it to myself because of the respect others in CS always showed me, I could do no less. These were good people with good hearts. Mr. Harry Smith had been my CS Teacher since 1966, and I owed only love and devotion to him and Mrs. Smith.

For quite some time I had come to sense in Christian Science, as I understood it, many points that discomforted my soul and remained unresolved in my mind. I felt no bitterness towards CS and would have had no basis for it. My experience in Christianity to that point was most definitely a net plus. I have never felt the need or had an impulse to openly criticize Christian Science, or to desert my growing faith in Christianity.

When I was drawn by God to the “Life Application Bible (NIV)” (Tyndale 1988), the Father knew what He was doing, because it led me to that point in time when I turned and accepted Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified, as my personal Savior (John 3:3). It had dawned on me that I had either to believe the teachings of Christian Science or take the New Testament for what it plainly says, because for me there is an irreconcilable conflict between the two. My Lord Jesus requites a love which hitherto had remained unrequited. It is my humble confession that my Salvation is by Grace through Faith and Love in Jesus Christ the Son of God The Father guided and provisioned daily by The Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8).

Yes, my God is One in Three Persons, The Holy Trinity. I profess that my Faith goes back 4,000 years to the Lord God’s Self-Revelation to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), because as Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). I love and revere The Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testament. I. am now and have been for 20 years an Evangelical Christian in the Baptist and Reformed traditions. My guides in Christianity have been The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, Peter, the other Apostles, John the Baptist, Barnabas, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John the Revelator, the Dove alighting, Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Bec, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas of Aquino, Francis of Assisi, Blaise Pascal, Etienne Gilson, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler and others and more and more. I think I can detect that which deviates from biblical Christianity, and I profess as a mature Christian with sins to battle, and a lot of excuses and short-comings.

On Christian Science, I am grateful for the good I received from it, and forever grateful for the wonderful Christian Scientists I have met along my journey to accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior. I feel that my experience has been similar to that written of by my friend, St. Augustine, in his “Confessions” (H. Chadwick, Oxford 1991). He writes of his progression in beliefs, a Christian mother, a pagan father, years of no baptism, the Manichees, and many other bases for faith-growth, and then he heard the words of an unseen child in the garden near Milan in 386 AD. There he came to Christ after hearing the elevated-esoteric preaching of Bishop Ambrose, witnessing the conversion of Victorinus, benefiting from his training in Roman court rhetoric and reading Neo-Platonism (Confessions at Book VII). Looking back, Augustine saw God’s Hand in what had brought him to turn to and take Christ the Resurrected Lord. He saw that the Manichees were about as wrong as could be, but that Truth had built a foundation for his step-up when Christ first spoke ringingly in his ears. I feel much the same about Christian Science, it was not my Manichaeism but was my Neo-Platonism most assuredly–and it was a net-plus, in my life. I have no need to reject that imperfect wet-nurse on whose nourishment I was suckled.

Praise and give all Glory to God Whose Ways are beyond my poor understanding (Job 38:1-4). What I do know now from Jesus Christ The Son of God is sufficient! And I have always found comfort and grace in the word — Sufficient. My Savior says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 in red).

James B. Ritchie
185 Saddle Lake Drive
Roswell, Georgia 30076
barclaybritchie@yahoo.com
April 30, 2008

The author can be reached at barclaybritchie@yahoo.com

You must be logged in to post a comment.