When President Woodrow Wilson declared the United States’ first observation of Armistice Day on Nov. 11, 1919, he envisioned a world that would “work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations.” However, history would show that the world was not yet done with international war. Twenty-five years after that first declaration, the Pentecostal Evangel reported on Nov. 11, 1944, that nearly 12,000,000 men had taken up arms and were serving their country in war-time military service. The Assemblies of God provided several ministry avenues to these servicemen but one of the most critical was to “give our prayers and our wholehearted support to those who are in by far the most strategic position to sustain them — the United States chaplains.”
As early as 1917, the Assemblies of God began work among servicemen when a motion by Raymond T. Richey, of Houston, Texas, to “adopt every available means consistent with scriptural teaching and example to cooperate with every approved agency for revivals among our soldiers” was approved by the General Council.
However, at the 1941 General Council in Minneapolis, which took as its theme “Our Place in the Present World Crises,” the need became apparent that a more complete plan for providing ministry to servicemen was needed. This plan came to include quarterly publications for military personnel, service centers near military bases and the creation of resources for local churches to minister to soldiers. The Assemblies of God also felt the need to provide some of its ministers as U.S. Military Chaplains.
The qualifications for chaplains were very high. In December of 1941, Army Regulation 605-30 stated that an applicant must be “a male U.S. citizen, between the ages of 23 and 34, regularly ordained and in good standing with an organization which holds an apportionment of chaplain appointments, a graduate of both four-year college and three-year theological seminary, and have three years of ministerial experience.”
Many ministers from the Assemblies of God, as well as other denominations, wished to serve their country as chaplains but found the educational requirements prohibitive. Due to the overwhelming need, educational and experiential requirements were at times waived or relaxed until the end of the crises. The first Assemblies of God Chaplain was Clarence P. Smales, who received his commission in June of 1941. During World War II, 34 Assemblies of God ministers left their churches, homes, and families to serve their country in providing spiritual care for military personnel. Of these, two were awarded the Purple Heart and three the Bronze Star.
The Servicemen’s Department of the Assemblies of God (created in 1944) provided these chaplains with needed equipment not provided by other sources, such as public address systems, short wave radios, Bibles, and communion sets.
In the Nov. 11, 1944, article, “Hard But Glorious,” Assemblies of God Navy Chaplain Joseph Gerhart tells of a seaman needing an immediate removal of an appendix. The operation was set to be carried out on the dining room table, and the roughness of the sea added to the peril. The ship’s doctor had not performed an operation for several years, adding to the young man’s apprehension. The sailor had been attending Chaplain Gerhart’s services but did not come from a church that believed in divine healing. Gerhart reports that he “prayed that God would heal his body … the boy began to improve immediately and the doctor came in after a while and said that the operation would not be necessary.” The boy was back on his feet the next day, much relieved at foregoing the surgery.
On this 25th anniversary of Armistice Day (renamed Veterans Day in 1954) the Evangel editors called their readers to assist these chaplains by use of the most powerful weapon the church has in its arsenal: prayer. “We are sure you feel with us the urgent necessity of sparing no effort — for the reward is great! We must not let them down! … PRAY!”
Read the full article “Hard But Glorious” on page 9 of the Nov. 11, 1944, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Apostolic Message, Method and Might,” by H. B. Garlock
• “That Blessed Hope,” by D. A. Clark
• “A Trophy of God’s Grace,” by D. W. Murphy, missionary to North India
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.