Ordained Assemblies of God ministers Matthew and Natalie Klimis have become the first married couple in the Fellowship to serve as endorsed active-duty chaplains in the U.S. Air Force.
Natalie received her official selection for active duty on Feb. 18.
It’s not as though she needed something to do. The 32-year-old mother has four children — ages 8 and younger.
Nearly a year ago, Klimis decided to serve part time as an Assemblies of God endorsed Air Force Reserve chaplain (AG Chaplaincy Ministries is a department of U.S. Missions). At the time, she thought she would begin serving as a reservist and eventually ease into full-time duty. But a series of events convinced her to switch to full-time status.
Gloria Orengo Taylor, a member of the AG’s 15-member Chaplaincy endorsement committee, planted a seed for Natalie to consider active duty. Taylor, who since 2016 has been the AG’s Veterans Affairs/health care Chaplaincy representative, is a trailblazer herself. Taylor in 1976 became the first woman military chaplain endorsed by the AG and only the third female chaplain for the entire Air Force.
Taylor, 72, says the poise and experience Klimis demonstrated during the rigorous interview process impressed her. Taylor notes that female chaplains are essential for women in the military who have to deal with issues such as sexual assault. More than one in five U.S. Air Force personnel is a woman.
Klimis says the Air Force has more chaplaincy openings at any time since a decade ago.
“God pushed us to go a little deeper into the water than we initially thought we would jump,” she says. “If we were going to go on active duty, now seemed to be the time.”
Natalie also will be stationed at Davis-Monthan, although the husband-wife team won’t be working together directly. Natalie will embark on eight weeks at officer training school on March 27.
Since they married 10 years ago, Natalie has been Matthew’s ministry partner. They met while earning Master of Divinity degrees at Regent University. Both raised in Pentecostal traditions, they served as campus pastors at Christian Life Center, an AG church in Dayton, Ohio. They then relaunched No Limit Church, sharing preaching duties for five years at the AG body in Valley Grande, Alabama.
Now the couple live on the military base with their children: Esther, 8; Phebe, 7; George, 5; and Noel, 3. Natalie says following in her husband’s chaplain footsteps is natural.
“I live in the community, I talk to the military spouses, I see their kids,” she says. “I see the effect on families, both the good and the bad. There is a lot of strain in many ways.”
Matthew, 36, says his wife’s heart for others will make her a great chaplain.
“She cares for people more than anyone thinks possible, and has been doing that ever since I’ve known her,” Matthew says. “She is wise beyond her years.”
In addition, Matthew says Natalie is theologically qualified, having over a decade’s worth of experience in preaching, counseling, kid’s ministry, and women’s ministry.
“She has helped me write almost every sermon, and helped me develop ministry plans,” he says. “She has prayed for me in the middle of the night and helped me understand my value in Christ.”
Klimis believes she can make a difference in alleviating some of the stress airmen experience. As an active-duty chaplain, her extensive work will include counseling, death notifications, advising leadership on the spiritual and emotional needs of airmen, and providing a variety of retreats, religious exemptions, resiliency/training events and other services aimed at protecting the First Amendment rights of all airmen. In addition, typically one week a month she will be on call 24/7 for emergencies such as suicide intervention and crisis counseling for the entire base.
“I want to come alongside airmen, bring hope, and bolster resilience,” says Klimis, a native of Alabama. “They do so much, they carry so much. We all need partners to come alongside and give encouragement.”
The Klimises are one of only three dual military couples of any faith group/endorsing agency in the Air Force.
“I will be a pastor to those who share my faith tradition, but a chaplain to all,” Natalie says. “My calling is to help others find their purpose, be it in their marriage, in their particular job within the Air Force, or perhaps their purpose for existing at all. My goal is to ensure that an airman’s worst day isn’t their last.”
James T. Denley, military representative for AG Chaplaincy Ministries, believes the couple will be an asset in providing care for airmen.
“Matthew and Natalie Klimis have been partners in ministry and now they have taken Team Klimis into the Air Force, where the need for women chaplains is high,” says Denley, 62. “All branches of the service need more women chaplains and they are recruiting more now than ever before. Team Klimis is a good example of how military chaplaincy and family life can work well together.”
Klimis joins five other women as AG Air Force chaplains. The Fellowship also has 10 female chaplains in the Army and four in the Navy.
David P. Strahan, missions and men’s director for the AG Alabama District, has no doubt that Klimis will excel in her new role.
“She is compassionate toward people,” Strahan says. “She loves serving and she is incredibly dedicated and hardworking.”
Strahan, whose portfolio includes church planting, says the district recruited the couple to revitalize No Limit Church just north of Selma in 2015. Attendance had dwindled to 20 regulars.
“This was not the kind of church where pastors lined up to send résumés,” says Strahan, 56. “But Matt and Natalie embraced it. They felt Selma was important because of the civil rights history there.”
Not everyone shared their enthusiasm to build a multiethnic congregation in the city, where more than 50 people received injuries in the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in 1965.
“They faced heavy criticism from inside and outside the church,” Strahan recalls. “Some left the church because of Matt and Natalie’s desire to reach out to Black people and people of all colors.”
When giving dipped, impacting Matt’s salary, Natalie went to work as marketing and membership director at the Selma-Dallas County YMCA — despite caring for young children at home and filling a host of roles at church.
“They persevered, even through threats, and built a great multiracial church,” Strahan says. No Limit Church had 155 adherents when they left.