The Four Chaplains


With me being away last week on the dates that commemorate the week of prayer for Christian unity I was not able to take in any sort of festivities with my brothers and sisters of other denominations. Sad when I think that this is the 100th anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.


Yesterday I mused about Gandhi and Charles I and reflected on tolerance and openness. There were some great comments posted on that blog – thank you to those who contributed. I was reading some more today about similar topics and I was reminded of the story of The Four Chaplains.  On February 3, 1943 during WWII these men became known to the world. This is a story with which I am certain my wife, who is a Navy Chaplain, must be very familiar.  The Four Chaplains were aboard the USAT Dorchester when it was torpedoed and sank in 20 minutes just off the coast of Greenland.  The chaplains were Lieutenants Rev. George L. Fox (Methodist); Rabbi Alexander D. Goode (Jewish); Fr. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic); and Rev. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed). Once the ship was struck these men spent the 20 minutes it took for the ships ultimate peril calming the crew and assisting them in their attempts to get to safety. Together they prayed and together they sacrificed. Each of these men gave up their life belts for others.  Survivors recalled how the last thing the witnessed was these four men of different religious backgrounds praying together for the safety of others.  I was reading today that there is a monument to these men in Ann Arbor MI. among many others across the US. I shall have to go see that.  The window above is from the chapel at the Pentegon.


The Immortal Chaplains Foundation which was founded the The Four Chaplains Honour each year honours someone with The Prize for Humanity for his/her efforts to live with compassion and live with respect for diversity. It is not surprising then that this organization has Archbishop Desmond Tutu as its international Patron.  When he received the Prize for Humanity Tutu said of The Four Chaplains, "They did what they did almost instinctively. It makes us proud to be a human being. You hope you would respond in a similar way. Human beings are made for goodness, for love. That’s the way God made us."  There is a very touching story of reconciliation between the German and American survivors from that violent evening that is posted on the foundations web page. It is the kind of stiff that makes Desmond Tutu very proud. Read about it here.


It is obvious that these men, who that night prayed on the hull of a sinking ship,  understood that in that moment of great challenge and struggle there was far more that brought them together than there was that separated them. We stand to learn more about ourselves if we take some time to learn more about each other.  For the mantra of the Foundation that remembers The Four Chaplains it is true indeed, “Compassion and diversity are the seed and strength for the coming together of humankind.”


O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at Thy Word,
Who walked on the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

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