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Interview with Donald Lerow, July 1, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Donald Lerow, July 1, 2003
Date:
July 1, 2003
Description:
Interview with Captain and Chaplain Donald Lerow.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Lerow, Donald Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  7/1/2003 Series:  Military Chaplains Length  55 minutes

 

Zarbock: Good morning. My name is Paul Zarbock, a staff member of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s library. This is part of the military chaplain’s project. Today’s date is the 1st of July in the year 2003. I’m in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Today’s interviewee is Captain Donald Lerow who is one of the chaplains here on the base.

Zarbock: I’m going to start off with you as I have with other people. What event, or series of events led you into the ministry and then followed by what event or series of events or individuals led you into the Chaplain Corps.

Lerow: I think my first experience with the military was that I enlisted in 1969 right out of high school and was during the Vietnam War. I graduated from high school and actually enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program. I had enlisted in April and then graduated from high school in June. I went on active duty in July and remained on active duty for four years.

Zarbock: In the Marine Corps?

Lerow: In the Navy. I was a sailor. I think through that experience…I think it was good for me to have the sense of structure that was needed for me to grow and I felt comfortable with the structure which this kind of organization provided me to kind of find my way if you will.

So in 1969, I enlisted and went to boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. That was probably the first time I ever had any contact with any Navy Chaplains. I can remember attending the chapel services in some of the old Quonset huts, large buildings actually going through boot camp. So from that point on I kind of spent my time in active duty. I went to a school down in Memphis, Tennessee after boot camp.

I can also remember my mother and father coming to my graduation there in Great Lakes and they brought some friends with them. I know Don and Betty Schultz, I grew up with their children as a child. That was in August of 1969. Went to Memphis, Tennessee, went to A school and then was assigned to what was known as VIA-33 which is a fighter squadron out of Oceania, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

I was with that Unit for the remainder of my time, my enlisted time. It was during that time I think I had my first involvement with any real committed religious ministry by any chaplains and my real first exposure to my own responsible for my own spiritual life.

Zarbock: Then you were discharged from the Navy.

Lerow: That’s correct, 1973.

Zarbock: There you are after four years in a very structured environment. You find yourself out in civilian life where things are entirely different.

Lerow: My wife Carolee and I were married the 1st of June. I’d gotten out the last week in May and the next week we were married. I was on my way to college so I took a couple of summer courses at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York.

Then I started my undergraduate work at Clinton Community College up in Plattsburg, New York. I worked on an Associate’s. I got out of the Navy because I think it was a mutual decision on both my part and Carolee’s to pursue a career as a chaplain. It was a joint decision, it was not just my decision. It was something that we both had discussed and kind of felt comfortable with, that that was probably something I could do with my life.

Zarbock: Let me take you back just a minute. Were your parents involved on a voluntary or employed level, in a religious institution?

Lerow: No, neither one of them were.

Zarbock: Were they church going people?

Lerow: I think they were, you know, I was more involved as a child going to church than they were. I liked the community. I grew up Methodist. We grew up in a farming community so it was a community where culture, old time traditions were predominant. So it was easy for me to walk to Sunday School and to go to church on my own a few blocks from the house and do my own thing and I liked doing that.

I don’t know why I did. I just had always found comfort and solace in the church. So that’s where my life has always been. Can’t say that that’s true for the rest of my brothers and sisters. I have five other brothers and sisters and I can’t say that’s true for my parents either. Mom and dad went to church more when I was around and dragged them because I dragged them to come with me.

Zarbock: That’s role reversal, isn’t it?

Lerow: I think they didn't have any objection to it. It’s just the way it was. My dad grew up as a Roman Catholic. My mother grew up as Methodist and the two of them together let me go to the closest church I could find and that’s just the way it was. So there always was this inclination in my life to find a home and to live in the church. I think the church in some ways has a sense of structure to it as well. I felt comfortable with structure.

Zarbock: We’ve got you in the Community College.

Lerow: Right, I went to community college working on an Associate’s Degree in Social Work and Carolee had transferred, bless her heart. She was going to Cornell University. She was in an Ivy League school. I couldn’t get into that Ivy League school because my grades were so low. But it was easy for her to transfer to the State University of New York Plattsburg. She majored in Home Economics and I was doing my thing at Clinton.

What we had planned on doing was that if in fact there was this calling for me to be a Navy chaplain, then I needed to do everything I could to walk towards that ultimate goal. I had to find out how much college I needed. I had to find out what I had to do about ordination and different things like that. It was part of the process, walking through the process.

The process is as much of an affirmation of the calling as the calling is itself. So you cannot think just because you’ve got this long goal out there that that’s where you’re supposed to go to, but the process was an affirmation of that’s what was supposed to happen. I was not overly, should I say, would have been disappointed if I hadn’t become a Navy chaplain.

The ultimate was to do what I felt God was calling me to do and just because it took seven or eight years to get to the point to become a Navy chaplain, I still had to live my seven or eight years, I still had to be who I was through that process. So that, the walk of going through school and the learning process continued to help me become a better person. That’s a calling too, to live life.

Zarbock: Everyday needs affect all of us. How did you earn your bread and butter?

Lerow: (Laughter) Well if you remember I had enlisted for four years so I had the GI Bill that would help me get through college.

Zarbock: How much did it pay in those days?

Lerow: I think I was getting about $350 a month.

Zarbock: Plus tuition?

Lerow: I had to pay my own tuition out of that $350 a month. Then I worked. I waited on tables at a local restaurant and made my thing on tips so we managed. We did fine. We were very comfortable.

Zarbock: Now what year did you graduate from college?

Lerow: I graduated from Clinton Community College in January of ’75 and I started in January at the State University of New York in Plattsburg in ’75 and graduated with my Bachelor’s in 1977. Then I went onto seminary from there.

Zarbock: And which seminary did you attend?

Lerow: I attended Asbury Theological Seminary which was in Wilmore, Kentucky. It was a Methodist, actually a Wesleyan school, and I was there for three years, graduated with a Master’s in Divinity in 1980.

Zarbock: For the purpose of this recording, when you said actually it was a Wesleyan school, would you define that please.

Lerow: There are a variety of churches that follow the teachings of John Wesley. You have the Wesleyan Church, you have the United Methodist Church, you have the Methodist AMEZ Churches. There are a variety of different groups. Asbury Theological Seminary is an independent seminary and really not affiliated with any one particular denomination, but is just there to teach the John Wesley traditions and teaching his theology.

Zarbock: And characteristically where would the graduates of that seminary find themselves after graduation?

Lerow: In Methodist churches and in Wesleyan churches as pastors, most of them.

Zarbock: And you finished seminary when?

Lerow: In 1980.

Zarbock: How old were you then?

Lerow: I was 30 years old.

Zarbock: Okay, 30 years old and you’re finally out of school and you know how to be a waiter.

Lerow: (Laughter) I know how to be a waiter.

Zarbock: So what happened after graduation?

Lerow: Well I had to go through an ordination process. At that time I decided to be a United Methodist. So I had to go through the ordination process which took two years on top of that. So I had to be ordained a Deacon and that happened in 1980, June of 1980. Then I was ordained an Elder in June of 1982. You had to serve two years as a Deacon before you could become a full time ordained United Methodist pastor.

Zarbock: Where did you serve those two years?

Lerow: In my home church in East Randolph, New York. So the little town I grew up in that little church that I spent most of my childhood life, I went back to be their pastor for two years.

Zarbock: Full circle. Were you the only pastor or were you the associate pastor?

Lerow: I was the only pastor.

Zarbock: And again just for curiosity, what was the size of the congregation?

Lerow: Oh, a small congregation, average attendance is probably 75 to 80 folks on a Sunday.

Zarbock: And you did it all?

Lerow: I did it all, yeah.

Zarbock: In those days in that place, was your wife considered by the congregation to be a two for one deal?

Lerow: If they did, it was short-lived. She is pretty independent and didn't really feel like it was her role to be a pastor. She was very supportive of me and very wise so the decisions we had to make in that couple of years was I think…she played a very major part in those decisions of how to lead that congregation.

You know you come home as a kid who grew up in the village, the town, they know everything about your life. So there wasn’t very much secrets about the kind of guy Donald Lerow was growing up as a high school kid. So there were some challenges, but we did fine.

Zarbock: I would think there would be, using your word, “challenges!” One of them may have been that they saw you sort of stuck in time. You were that little boy instead of a credentialed, educated pastor.

Lerow: My Sunday school teachers were still there. As a child, you know, they were now in their 60’s and 70’s and I was 30 so those teachers were still around and now I was their pastor. I don’t think I really…was still in the honeymoon phase. You know I only stayed for two years before becoming a chaplain. So the honeymoon normally for pastors lasts two to five years before you really develop I think what it means to be a true pastor of a parish. If I’d stayed around another five years maybe I would have had more challenges. Most of the time I just felt like I was having a ball.

Zarbock: Other chaplains whom I’ve interviewed have frequently said that they got into the Chaplain Corps by first entering the Reserves. What was the process?

Lerow: Yeah, all chaplains are Reserve Chaplains. They’re the U.S. Navy Reserves until they are Lieutenant Commanders. So once you’re a Lieutenant Commander, then they say well you can augment to regular Navy. There is some discussion about the advantages of one over the other. I really don’t know. But if you’re going to make a career out of the Navy, just about everyone augments to regular USN.

But you stay in the Reserves and you a drill on the weekend once a month. You go on active duty for two weeks a year. I did that for a couple of years.

Zarbock: I was going to ask you, you’ve got eight years of grade school, you’ve got four years of high school, you’ve got four years of college, you have three years of seminary, you’ve got two years practicing your skills in a small church, who taught you to march and salute and put on your uniform?

Lerow: I think I learned that in boot camp in 1969. It wasn’t hard for me to acclimate to the environment. I knew it as a young sailor, what it meant to be enlisted and what it meant to be an officer. I knew how to salute, wear the uniform, so it was just a memory thing for me to become a chaplain and to wear a cross you know instead of wearing chevrons on your arm. I mean it was not that difficult.

Zarbock: So you knew how to march.

Lerow: I knew exactly what I was getting into so there were no excuses, I just knew!

Zarbock: Well where were you stationed as a reservist?

Lerow: When I got out from active duty in 1973, I stayed in the Reserves through all that time. As an enlisted AMH, Hydraulics Tech, while I was going through college and seminary, so wherever I was stationed, like I was in Plattsburg, New York, I would go to Burlington for my drills. Burlington, Vermont, which was just across the Champlain, Lake Champlain.

When I was in Wilmore, Kentucky, it was easy to go to Lexington, Kentucky to do my drills. So I always seemed to be close to where a reserve center was where I could do my reserve time. I wasn’t always actively involved in reserves, but I was always a Reservist, never got off the reserve roles. Then when I finished my second year of seminary, I applied for, it was 1979, I applied for the Student Theological Program for the Chaplain Corps, which they call TSP.

I was in that for a couple of years, three years as a reservist. So I got commissioned as an Ensign.

Zarbock: By the way, were you discharged as an enlisted man and then went back in as an officer?

Lerow: That’s correct.

Zarbock: What legal loopholes did you have to…??

Lerow: They just discharged me.

Zarbock: Honorably, I’m sure.

Lerow: Honorably discharged, that’s correct and then I was just sworn in the same day and commissioned as an Ensign in the Student Theological Program.

Zarbock: It’s a very rapid promotion, isn’t it?

Lerow: Yeah, it was a rapid promotion. It was voluntary, I was not paid for it actually. I was being paid, I don’t remember what I was getting paid as a reservist every month, it must have been about another $200-$300 to do my drills as an enlisted man. But to become a chaplain, a TSP in the Student Theological Program meant that I had to do my drills voluntarily. There was no pay involved, had to volunteer my time to do this. I did it for a couple of years.

Zarbock: What miracle of illogicality put that idea together?

Lerow: (Laughter) I think I was anxious to experience what it meant to be a chaplain and so it was easy for me to give up the chevrons and to move over into being a chaplain which meant that I could go on active duty for a couple of weeks a year which I did. I did some active duty for training as an Ensign and worked in a chapel.

I did that at Oceania back to my original duty station. I did that for a couple of weeks so I got to feel what it was like to work in the chapel and to see how the chaplains worked together just for a couple of weeks. I did that a couple of times before I came on active duty. It was a good experience.

Zarbock: Did you have children at that time?

Lerow: Yes, just one daughter, Sarah was born in 1976. I was a Junior in college when she was born. We had Sarah all the way through seminary and then Karen was not born until my first year on active duty as a chaplain.

Zarbock: It strikes me you were not, if you’ll pardon the cliché, living high on the hog.

Lerow: I was doing great. We had everything. I was an Ensign in the reserves. I was doing real well in college in seminary, the GI Bill. Carolee was working at various jobs and so we were doing fine.

Zarbock: Let me leapfrog ahead. You’re now commissioned and you’re in the reserves and you’re an Ensign. Well did anyone put you on a ship or put you on a Navy Base?

Lerow: I had to get permission to come on active duty.

Zarbock: From whom?

Lerow: From my church. In other words, at the time as a United Methodist, we have Endorsers. In order to be a Navy Chaplain, you have to represent the body, the ecclesiastical body that you are a member of and they have to give you permission, so to speak, to represent them on active duty in the military.

So you get an endorsement from your church and you are appointed to the Navy. Then you get a commission from the Navy so you have to have this Active Duty Military Commission and you have to have the endorsement from your church. You have to marry up together in Washington, D.C. at the Bureau of Navy Personnel and once those two are together, then they can give you a set of orders to your first Duty Station. That’s what they did.

So in the summer of 1982, I was commissioned a Navy Chaplain, not a Student Theological Program which I already was. I was an Ensign, remember? I was not a chaplain. I was a student. So making that transition to being a student to being an Active Duty Navy Chaplain would require another commissioning. So I had to be recommissioned from that program into the Chaplain Corps Program.

We did that in July of 1982. My first duty station was at the Bethesda Navy Hospital in Washington, D.C. I was there for two years, almost two and a half years actually.

Zarbock: What about sea duty? Did you have any?

Lerow: Oh yes, when I left Bethesda Naval Hospital, we went to San Diego, California. I was assigned to DESRON-31, a Destroyer Squadron of ships, seven or eight ships in the Squadron. I deployed with them for nine months.

Zarbock: You really are a circuit rider aren’t you?

Lerow: Yeah, you are a circuit rider. You move around from ship to ship. When you’re deployed, I stayed about two weeks on each ship.

Zarbock: As a general rule, what difficulties did you experience?

Lerow: Let’s see. Difficulties? Well you didn't take much with you. I mean you always had a few items. You had a small bag. You didn't have a library. You had to go prepared to give sermons, do some various kinds of training that chaplains do to the crew. So you have limited space. Your accommodations aren’t the best. You’re sharing a stateroom with another officer usually. Your counseling is not as private as you would like it to be. Often you find yourself out on the wing of a ship outside talking to a sailor.

Sometimes it was easy to arrange counseling space in the skin of the ship on occasion. It just depended on what the need was. I had some group counseling going on, Bible studies. I did Divine Services frequently.

Zarbock: Did you say group counseling?

Lerow: Yes, we did some group stuff, yeah.

Zarbock: How did that work?

Lerow: Usually the kinds of things that we dealt with were separation issues. I’d have six or seven sailors that were struggling with separation from their spouses, their wives. I would say, “ alright guys, let’s start a little group and see if we can share together some of the same issues that you’re having.” Because I knew that I was leaving probably within a week or so and if they developed a kind of friendship with similar problems, they could work with each other to understand each other’s issues. Those groups were pretty good. It worked well for me to be able to do that.

Zarbock: Did you have any deaths at sea?

Lerow: No, not as a chaplain though I do remember us having deaths when I was enlisted, but not as a chaplain. We had a couple of close calls. We had a man overboard, sailors fell overboard but were rescued, did not die. So I was pretty fortunate. That’s not been the case for a lot of chaplains. A lot of chaplains do experience some form of death while they’re deployed.

Zarbock: This might be the time to ask as I’ve asked all the chaplains that I’ve interviewed. At any time during your military career, was there any event or events that took place in which you were ordered or strongly suggested or subtley encouraged to do something that disturbed you spiritually, religiously and philosophically?

Lerow: I would say no. I don’t think I ever had anyone make me do things or encourage me to do things that would not be expected of a clergyman. I think it’s not the story I’ve heard from other chaplains, but I think I have been pretty fortunate. I’ve not had that problem. I’ve had the deepest respect and admiration from all officers, enlisted folks that I have encountered.

Zarbock: Other chaplains have remarked that the “worst” behavior might be a Commanding Officer’s indifference, like “Chaplain, don’t bother me, do what you want to do”. From that position all the way over to a position in life in which the Chaplain was asked for counsel and advice by command structure not only on issues of a spiritual nature, but broader, the morale of the ship etc. Was this generally your experience that the Command might go from ho-hum to very, very deep involvement?

Lerow: Yes, I’ve worked with Commanders and officers and enlisted folks that have been very indifferent to religious ministries. They don’t like it. I don’t know why? I think for them it’s an uncomfortable feeling that they have when I’m around. On the other hand, I’ve had enormous support from other Commanding Officers, Executive Officers to facilitate and support me in whatever I needed to do my job.

I don’t think I ever had anyone say, “ we’re not going to let you do such and such! We’re not going to let you have a worship service”or, “we’re not going to let you come aboard our ship” or, “ we’re not going to let you go in the field with us with the Marines.” I’ve never had that kind of experience, but I have had a lot of indifference. I think when you use the word indifference, that is in a sense, a leadership model.

People, officers, lead their people differently. I think on the blue side, what we call “the blue side, the Navy side of the house,” the surface line community has a tendency to lead their people by a sense of indifference. It’s just the way they lead their people. That’s they way they do it. In other words, you feel shunned by them. If you feel shunned by them, that’s a sense of indifference and it means that you better look at your behavior or maybe you better come to work five minutes earlier than you did yesterday.

It’s a very simple, subtle way of showing disapproval. That’s a leadership model and it’s part of the culture which is different than “ the green side, what we call the Marine side of the Navy.” They’re not that way. They just lay everything out on the table. There are certain roles and expectations that are clearly defined and you just do them. If you’re not doing them, they’ll come and tell you.

If I’ve got my cross on backwards, they’re going to say, “Chaplain, you’ve got your cross on backwards” or if you’re not in the right uniform, they’re going to tell you, “You’re not in the right uniform!” The Navy is going to look at you and say, “What’s wrong with you?” and not tell you what it is. You’ve got to figure it out. So it’s just a difference I think in leadership model in terms of how they lead their people.

Zarbock: Let me pursue that just a little bit. As a Navy Chaplain working with the Marines, characteristically there has been a certain tension between Navy personnel and Marines. Here you are Navy plumped in the middle of the Marines, how do you get along? How are you received, you as a Navy chaplain?

Lerow: I think the Marine Corps loves Navy chaplains. I think they see a really special place for us in their family. I think we, as chaplains, need to understand that it is an invitation to be a part of the family. They really like us a lot. They like clergy, they like chaplains and I think it brings a sense of completion to their family, their unit. We are one with them in many ways.

If Navy has something to do with it, I don’t know if it has to do with Navy. I don’t think they see us as Navy, they just see us as chaplains. We add this very unique spiritual dimension to their lives and their culture and community and it does give a sense of wholeness, completeness to them. If you think about that for a while, you realize that you really don’t have to do a lot of things to be accepted by them.

The thing that I tell my chaplains here, that I only have one requirement of them and that is that they love their people, they love their Marines. If you do that to the best of your ability, you will not have any problems. That’s pretty much it.

Zarbock: You know Chaplain, there are very few known to me universals in this world. There are very few that I’ve run across, but I think I’ve run across one. Every Navy Chaplain whom I’ve interviewed that has worked with the Marines, have this real strong bond of affection and respect for the Marines and it’s been reciprocal. This has been a great learning experience for me.

Lerow: From being outside looking in, I think that’s a good observation. Being inside where we are and knowing when you are embraced by them, what a remarkable privilege it is to be a part of this team. These Marines, they’re great people!

Zarbock: I’m going to pepper you with a bunch of questions or comments. Characteristically people are interested in best and worst. What was the best assignment and what was the least best assignment in your career?

Lerow: My best assignment, well this has been the best assignment I think. The 2nd Marine Division will probably be the highlight of my career. I don’t know if it will get better than this. Close to it though I have to say that the Navy job that I had with the Naval Force Command 5th Fleet in Bahrain probably comes really close to this job.

They’re very equal in the sense that I felt the most sense of fulfillment and the most value in my life. So that job in Bahrain for three years working with Vice Admiral Fargo at the time and also his relief, Vice Admiral Moore.

Zarbock: What were your duties there?

Lerow: My duties there were to take care of the Fleet. It was kind of like being a DesRon Chaplain again. I was the Fleet Chaplain.

Zarbock: For the entire fleet?

Lerow: The entire fleet and I worked for a three star Admiral. I was out and about. I mean I was on all the carriers that came in the Gulf. This is between 1986 to 1989, for three years. Then during those three years, I was probably on eight carriers. I can’t tell you how many ships I was on, probably 25 to 30 ships or more coming through the Gulf. I worked with all their chaplains. I was in various countries like United Arab Emirates. I was in Kuwait. I was in Saudi Arabia. I was in Oman.

Zarbock: As a Christian Chaplain in a Muslim country, did you have any situations that were provocative?

Lerow: No, I was not involved in doing ministry to their countries or their culture. My job was to take care of our Marines and sailors that came into the Gulf because the nation wanted them to be there. My role was to take care of them. I did provide opportunities and interaction for our people to be involved with national host nations. That was through community relations projects.

I would go down to United Arab Emirates, Dubai for example or Abu Dhabi and I would work with the local community to come up with some community projects. When the ship came in to do a port visit, 25 or 30 sailors could interact with an orphanage, a school, a masque or a church that was there to help out. I did develop those kinds of things in those nations so that when these ships came ashore, they could be a part of it.

So there was that kind of subtle integration to help our people understand. That was part of my role and I had to know the culture a little bit to make that happen. I think that job along with this job being the Division Chaplain have probably been the finest two jobs I’ve ever, ever had in my life.

Zarbock: When you were in Bahrain, was your wife with you?

Lerow: Yes. My wife was with me, our daughter Karen was with us. We lived like kings and queens. The Navy took good care of us. We had a nice house to live in. Karen went to a really nice school, a Department of Defense School in Bahrain. Very cosmopolitan.

Zarbock: And there wasn’t a sense of personal danger?

Lerow: No. There were threats and we were in various threat conditions. We call them Bravo and Charlie. Most of the time we seemed to be in Bravo.

Zarbock: Is that a higher…??

Lerow: A higher elevation. Charlie was really highly elevated which meant that basically you had to be home before dark. They didn't want you wandering around out in town in the villages and stuff or shopping. You could go to the grocery store to get things, but after dark they wanted you home.

Then coming on the Base in Bahrain, you had to have your car inspected and you had to be searched and different things like that. There were some restrictions getting on and off the base. For all intents and purposes, it was a pretty safe environment to be there. The struggles were not against…this is before we had all the terrorist problems, and hatred towards Americans. They were afraid of us getting hurt because of problems between the Shiites and the Sunni Muslims.

They didn't want us to get caught in the middle of those conflicts that were going on in the villages. The Shiites may be really angry with the Sunni business and were going to blow up his car or something. They just didn't want us Americans hanging around so that we would get hurt during their problems. So that’s what they kept us away from.

Zarbock: I’m going to wander into yet another field. Years and years and years ago, I was in the military and a teenage boy, like you, out of high school and goes into the military in order to get the GI Bill and see what was on the other side of the hill. Well I never heard in those days of a Muslim Chaplain and they exist now. Do you happen to have a Muslim chaplain here at Lejeune?

Lerow: No, we do not. We could use one.

Zarbock: Have you worked with them?

Lerow: Not a lot. We only have right now, I think, two on active duty so here at Camp Lejeune. We’ve had reservist Muslims who have come on active duty for a summer or three or four weeks to do their active duty for training and we’ve had that subtle relationship building between them. We don’t have very many, right now.

Zarbock: How has that experience gone?

Lerow: Really well. They’re chaplains. They have to do what we do.

Zarbock: And women in the Chaplaincy. This is a relatively new category of personnel. Do you have any women chaplains here?

Lerow: We don’t have any women chaplains in the Division though we do have women chaplains serving at the Base, the Base Commands and they’re in the podiums every Sunday just like the rest of us. Counseling cases are the same as ours. They are treated with the same sense of dignity and are embraced as well by the Marine Corp, I think, as we are. Yeah, they’re part of the fabric now and probably will not go away.

Zarbock: It’s curious, it’s paradoxical isn’t it, that military organizations which are so rigid and specific in do’s and don’ts, if they decide to change and say, “ well what was ‘don’t’ yesterday, is ‘do’ today and that’s the way it is!” It seems to work out relatively well. Well, in all that span of career, could you regale me with a memory or two that really…what I’m trying to do is to get something of interest to you, therefore to be of interest to us, but I don’t want to pry into something that is so emotional that you don’t want to touch it. So tell me a story.

Lerow: Well I remember when I was stationed up in Adak, Alaska which was…it kind of has a mixed blessing to it. A lot of really positive blessings and on the other hand, there’s some real negatives to that job when I was stationed there. I can still see my daughters, particularly my daughter Karen who was so little at the time. I guess she must have been 8 or 9, standing next to the water watching the sea otters come up close to her just to befriend her.

In that environment, you see your children grow up in a world that is just so full of creation and nature. It’s such a, I don’t know how you say it, existential sort of kind of thing. Yet on the other side of this whole scenario, you have this family being enriched by this environment that you are in, absolutely stunning, yet on the other hand you’re doing this chapel thing up on the hill where you know I was a United Methodist. I’m an Anglican Catholic now, but I was a United Methodist at the time.

I’m serving this parish where the very conservative evangelicals just hated, I can almost use the word hate, I probably shouldn’t, but it seems like they really detested me as a chaplain because I would baptize a baby because we did infant baptisms. So you have one chapel, you’re the Protestant Chaplain and you are trying to meet all the needs of this community, but your theological traditions are different than what many of your congregants are. Because there’s one chapel, you have to provide a plethora of needs.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is on the one hand I as a chaplain was going through some very difficult struggles as to where I was spiritually in what my theology was and yet on the other side was this family life of mine which was being so enriched by living in this wilderness of beauty. I had to bring some kind of resolution to the challenges of wanting to be a participant in the community, but yet feeling enormously rejected by folks whose belief systems were so much different than mine. That was a tough time.

Zarbock: The rejections on the part of colleagues or on the part of the congregation?

Lerow: The congregation. As a matter of fact because I was baptizing a baby in the congregation on a Sunday morning, they would just get up and walk out the back door. They would leave and there was that sense of rejection.

Zarbock: And you mentioned you’re an Anglican Catholic. In the little boxes that exist organizationally, where does that put you? You’re a Protestant.

Lerow: Well I don’t know if I am a Protestant. I think that has to be debated. I think I’m Catholic, but as a theological issue I’m an Anglican Catholic. I’m a priest. I was a Methodist for 20 years and about a year ago, I converted to the Anglican Catholic Church and became a priest.

Zarbock: And you were ordained as a priest?

Lerow: Right.

Zarbock: So did you have to be released from the Methodist Church?

Lerow: That’s correct, I had to receive another endorsement. The Navy was really good at that. The Navy wants I believe to have a diverse Chaplain Corps. So that was not the problem. There really was no problem actually. It was an easy transition for me. Well it wasn’t an easy transition. It was an easy transition for paper, but to be unendorsed one day and endorsed the next day, I needed some flexibility from the Methodist Church to allow me to go through another process, okay, to become an Anglican priest.

Zarbock: Now where is the Organizational Headquarters of the Anglican Catholic church?

Lerow: They’re in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Zarbock: This is a relatively small…??

Lerow: Very small continuing Anglican Church that’s been around since the early 70’s. I didn't know about them then. I was too busy with a career you know. It had been a struggle for 10 years and I think the catalyst was this experience in Adak, Alaska. As I reflect back upon the real sense of rejection I received from Protestants.

Zarbock: But as an Anglican Catholic, you still baptize infants, don’t you?

Lerow: Absolutely! But I think it was the Protestant Movement, you know I’m speaking personally now, about my own personal theology, but it is the Protestant Movement from its birth. You have to go all the way back to Luther and to Calvin to understand the theology that’s behind that. If those folks could look at Protestantism and what has happened to it today, would they do what they did then. I don’t think they would, that’s where I’m at.

To be an Anglican Catholic also meant that I would become much more attuned to what John Wesley was. John Wesley was an Anglican priest. So what I do now is what he was in many ways.

Zarbock: And again, full circle.

Lerow: Full circle, back to where I was.

Zarbock: What do you prefer to be called, Father or Pastor or Chaplain or all of the above? What’s your preference?

Lerow: I don’t know if I have a preference.

Zarbock: Well then out of my tradition, I’m going to call you Pastor. Pastor, if you’d be so kind, look right into the camera. Last question, this is addressed to posterity. I mentioned on the phone, you’ll never be a day older than you are today so a quick message to your grandchildren perhaps. What has all of this life meant?

Lerow: Oh wow, what has this life meant? That there is a God and that God loves you and that whatever you do in your life, don’t neglect Him. Search for Him diligently with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and you will be better for it.

Zarbock: Thank you Chaplain. May the Lord be with you.

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