Master of Divinity student Joshua Kraft Gribbin was commissioned as a United States Navy chaplain candidate in Wesley’s Oxnam Chapel surrounded by family and friends on Oct. 6, 2016. The Rev. Dr. Terry Bradfield, retired Army chaplain and Wesley’s vice president for administration, conducted the ceremony.
Becoming a Navy chaplain is a dream anchored in Gribbin’s family history. “I come from a very military-involved family,” he said. “We can trace it back to the First World War, and members of my family have participated in many major conflicts in the years since.”
That legacy includes Gribbin’s grandfather, a World War II navigator who was shot down over enemy territory and held in a Nazi prison camp. “He orchestrated an escape,” he said. “He and his comrades traveled for a month until they reached Allied territory.”
With his family as inspiration, Gribbin’s own interest in military service started when he was 16 years old. “I felt a questioning about whether I should serve in the military, and in what capacity,” he said. Those questions remained as he moved through high school, college and then into seminary.
“Over the last ten years some leads sort of faded out and other opportunities presented themselves,” he said. “When it came time to talk about ordination, I realized I wanted to do chaplaincy. I came to that through conversation with God, the experience of doing CPE (an internship program for hospital chaplains) and through my internship at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”
Gribbin’s Practice in Ministry and Mission (PM&M) placement at a prison-based internship played a key role in his discernment process. He spent his first months there studying the system, and the particulars of prison culture.
“While I was doing all this reading, I was pondering where God was in all of it,” he said. “And how a chaplain could guide incarcerated citizens closer to God. By the time I got to meet with those incarcerated citizens I was blown away by their willingness to talk to me.”
Gribbin found himself deeply inspired by the prisoners, and by the vast support system that allows chaplains to do their work. “It made me aware of all those who serve,” he said. “There are the ones who collect the mail, the security officers, the cleaners. It becomes a constellation of service.”
Combining his family history with his commitment to chaplaincy, Gribbin reached out to the Army, Navy, and Air Force. “All three were very helpful,” he said. “But the response from individuals at the Navy was overwhelming.” The turning point was an invitation by retired chaplain Capt. Michael Gore to visit the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
“For four hours we walked and talked together,” Gribbin said. “He’s the one who led me to Lt. Whitmore, who has been a great guide on the logistics of this process and a great role model for what it means to be an individual who cares for the country and for the Navy.”
Back on the Wesley campus, Gribbin found a similar mentor in Vice President for Administration, Terry Bradfield. “He was encouraging from the beginning,” Gribbin said. “He could pick up on stuff that was going on for me. He allowed me to process through my own narrative and say where I am and what I’m thinking.”
It is a role Bradfield was happy to fill. “I’m a retired Army chaplain myself,” he said. “One of the informal roles I’ve adopted at Wesley is to be a source of information for people interested in military chaplaincy.” His work with Gribbin included mentoring him through the decision process, and, ultimately, putting together a service of commissioning in Wesley’s Oxnam Chapel.
“The way he spoke at the commissioning ceremony and the way he honored my family was of immeasurable value,” Gribbin said. “My family was very grateful for that acknowledgment and very honored by it.”
The ceremony also received positive responses from the wider community. “I’ve heard from faculty and staff and from people beyond our campus who saw various Facebook posts,” Bradfield said. “It’s great, because it allows the Wesley community to become connected to the military community. It gives people that direct link.”
As for Gribbin, his path forward includes continuing studies toward ordination, officer training, and placement in the Navy Reserve, with an eye on active duty in the near future. “I want to honor both the Navy tradition and the requirements of the United Methodist Church so they can come together in harmony,” he said.
Throughout the process, Gribbin’s love of the church has been a guiding force. “I want to be part of the Wesleyan tradition,” he said. “I take great honor and humility from the words and works of the Wesley brothers, and from [Francis] Asbury’s sustaining of the church during the [Revolutionary] War. I want to say I come from their lineage, and I want to be part of that tradition that transcends time and space.”