An Alternative Presence at the Coast Guard Academy by Steve Carpenter

Before becoming Mennonite, I had a twenty year career in the Coast Guard, the fifth branch of the U.S.’s armed forces. I have not kept in touch with many of my former colleagues and rarely ventured back to my roots at the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) in New London, Connecticut, where I graduated as an Ensign in 1977.

But this year, on Nov. 16, I went back for a memorial service for Betsy Teuton, the wife of Hank, my best friend in college. She died after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. Approximately 600 people gathered in the academy’s auditorium for a time of worship and reflection on her remarkable life and witness. Betsy radiated Christ’s love and extended hospitality to all, but especially to the cadets at the CGA where she and her husband served as the campus representatives of the Officer’s Christian Fellowship (OCF). OCF is similar to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship except they have chapters on military academies and bases rather than on college campuses.

Hank & Betsy Teuton

Hank & Betsy Teuton

Betsy’s memorial service began with the blowing of a shofar, reminiscent of ancient Israel’s call to worship. Music permeated the memorial with professional military band members and a praise band comprised of current and former cadets leading those gathered in worship. The Superintendent of the CGA, Rear-Admiral Sandra Stosz, gave testimony to Betsy’s influence on the cadets.

RADM Sandra L. Stosz, USCG

RADM Sandra L. Stosz, USCG

Later, during a reception in the auditorium’s ball room she honored Betsy with a posthumous “Commander’s Award” which she presented to Hank. It was a beautiful service marked by genuine love and regard for the deceased and infused with heartfelt worship. Betsy was a remarkable woman who was deeply loved and will be sorely missed.

Gerry Hale, Hank Teuton, Steve Carpenter, Randy Beardsworth, Wayne Buchanan

Gerry Hale, Hank Teuton, Steve Carpenter, Randy Beardsworth, & Wayne Buchanan. Photo by Frank Cole.

However, I no longer felt entirely at home in this setting. The memorial was characterized by military protocol, although not a stuffy formality. A retired CG Captain officiated over well-dressed participants, many of whom had short cropped haircuts and wore military uniforms. The evening was also infused with deference to rank. For example, I was repeatedly called “sir” despite being in civilian garb, and the places of honor were occupied by admirals and other senior military officers. A senior military chaplain offered his words of remembrance. There were video appearances by Vice-Admiral Lee, Commander of Coast Guard Atlantic Area, along with several foreign missionaries.

You can imagine, then, how surprised I was when I noticed a casually dressed young couple, with the gentleman sporting dreadlocks. They were quite noticeable. I inquired about who they were and, to my surprise, learned the young woman, Sarah, is the daughter of Bob Durfey, another of my best friends during college. He was the retired CG Captain who emceed the service.

I sidled up to this young couple during the reception and remarked, “You guys are a breath of fresh air in the midst of all of these starched shirts!” Sarah was present with her boyfriend Jared, whom she met in San Francisco. I told them they reminded me of Shane Claiborne and asked if they knew of him and The Simple Way community he leads in Philadelphia. As expected, they did know and admire Claiborne. However, I was flabbergasted to learn that earlier this fall they were in Harrisonburg, Virginia, now my hometown, to attend the wedding of some Mennonite friends at Early Church. They said they were impressed with the work Mennonite Pastor Ron Copeland is doing at Our Community Place.

Joe Durfey, Jack & Sarah Smith with baby Kate, Sarah Durfey, Gared Dunham, Steve Carpenter. Photo by Frank Cole

Joe Durfey, Jack & Sarah Smith with baby Kate, Sarah Durfey, Jared Dunham & Steve Carpenter. Photo by Frank Cole

Here, standing before me, was a young woman who had grown up in the same military circles in which I formerly moved. She too was discovering Mennonites, but unlike my experience, she discovered them through her involvement with the alternative Christian voice expressed in the New Monastic movement.

One of the reasons I enjoy working at MennoMedia is that we project an alternative Christian viewpoint, expressed in Anabaptist thought and practices, into the marketplace of ideas. Herald Press books are often one link in the road some follow as they discover a people dedicated to following the Prince of Peace. The theology, lifestyle, and thinking of Mennonites is often very different from that of military chaplains and senior officers.

I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Sarah if she knew Joanna Shenk, associate pastor of First Mennonite Church of San Francisco and the author of Widening the Circle, the story of alternative Christian communities in the Mennonite orbit.

WideningTheCircle
There are two other recent Herald Press books that I would have liked to have given to some of my friends gathered at Betsy’s memorial service. These books could introduce this Coast Guard audience to an alternative expression of Christian faith that seeks to follow the Prince of Peace above country. They are:

For God and Country [in that order] by Logan Mehl-Laituri

ForGod&Country
and Reconcile: Conflict Transformation Ordinary Christians by John Paul Lederach.

Reconcile
Bill Hybels, co-founder and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, wrote a glowingly endorsement of Reconcile saying, “Lynne and I feel deeply called to the work of peacemaking these days. We know it is very near to the heart of the One we serve. No one’s writings have helped us more than John Paul Lederach’s.”

I was encouraged by Sarah’s experience with her Mennonite friends. I wish my military friends and classmates could also be exposed to Mennonites and their alternative expression of The Way. MennoMedia is an important link in this chain of influence, supporting relational witness with well-reasoned arguments and stories presented in print and other media forms.

Thank you for supporting MennoMedia’s work through your donations, and by buying, using, and sharing our materials.

Blessings in your work, worship and witness,

Steve C 2012

Steve Carpenter MennoMedia’s Director of Development & Church Relations

Reconcile: The Backstory

Twenty years ago, as a student at Eastern Mennonite University, I had John Paul Lederach as a professor. Like many of his students then (at EMU) and now (at the University of Notre Dame), I came to deeply admire John Paul’s work in peacebuilding and the studied combination of idealism and realism that flavors his work. The stories he told in classes—of meeting with warring factions in Central American jungles, of fleeing a country for the safety of his family, and of watching former enemies take faltering but momentous steps toward peace—fired our imaginations. I and several of my classmates dreamed of becoming mediators, preferably of the internationally renowned variety.

One assignment in John Paul’s international peacemaking class my senior year gave us some practice. We had to design a simulation of an international conflict for our classmates so that we could both understand the conflict better and try out our newly minted mediation skills. My group chose Northern Ireland, and we spent hours studying the Troubles and setting up the exercise for our class. We took over the campus center, with classrooms becoming IRA hideaways and Ulster training grounds. I don’t remember exactly how the simulation ended, but I do know that we hadn’t even convinced our faux enemies to meet together before the time ran out.

After college, I found out that real conflicts are even harder than simulated ones by working at a neighborhood mediation center. I remained convinced that conciliation was crucial in our litigious society and warring world, but I was learning to admire someone else’s vocation without assuming that it should be my own. Eventually I would also learn that you don’t have to be a professional mediator to snag a chance to transform conflict; regular life manages to offer lots of opportunities.

Five years after I graduated from college, Herald Press published John Paul’s book The Journey toward Reconciliation. That book sold well and was transformative for its many readers. As far as we can tell now, however, it was read mostly by Mennonites.

jtr

The front cover of John Paul Lederach’s 1999 Herald Press book.

Then, during this past Advent, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, preached a sermon based largely on the book. Somehow Hybels had gotten his hands on a copy, and he drew heavily on John Paul’s retelling of the Jacob and Esau story as a paradigm for reconciliation. Hybels told his listeners that the Willow Creek elder team is listening hard for how God might be calling them to use their power and privilege to work for peace and reconciliation. (You can listen to his sermon here.)

Coming from Willow Creek, where more than twenty thousand people worship at six locations each weekend, this sermon was gratifying to us at Herald Press. It was also one of several recent signals that many evangelical Christians are searching for resources on reconciliation and peacemaking.

So we got busy. We reread The Journey toward Reconciliation and wondered together how to retool this book for a wider audience. We contacted John Paul about revising and updating it, and we tested the idea with some readers to ask what they would look for in a book about reconciliation. We asked a few other folks to read the book and tell us how it could better reach an evangelical audience, and we invited several Christian leaders in reconciliation to create resources for the back. Then we asked Bill and Lynne Hybels to write the foreword, and they responded, enthusiastically, yes. “No one’s writing about reconciliation has helped us more than John Paul Lederach’s,” they told us.

Thus, in these months between Advent and Pentecost, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians was born. Packed with new stories from John Paul’s work in twenty-five countries around the globe, reflections on a post 9-11 world, and a section of resources created by leaders in reconciliation, Reconcile is poised to reach a wide audience of Christians yearning to find out more about Christ’s call to peacemaking.

recon

The front cover of Reconcile, now available for preorder.

I’m pleased to announce that Reconcile is now available for preorder. Within hours of the book’s website going live, it had 35 Facebook likes. Just today I passed the designed pages of this book to our first proofreader, and it will go to the printer in a few short weeks.

Twenty years after we graduated, I and my college friends still haven’t made it into international conciliation work. Judging from our Northern Ireland simulation, that may be a good thing. But I’m honored to be a part of bringing this important new book by my former college professor to readers—readers who are, by all accounts, waiting for a book just like this.

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Get an Advance Reader Copy of Reconcile free on Goodreads! If you “win,” be among the first to see the new edition of Reconcile (in advance of publication) which is being offered on Goodreads from now until midnight June 15th. Check here.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.