A Passion For Ministry – And Service
Chaplain Justin Bernard, LT, USN
“If God is calling you to a ministry that is active and lives day-to-day life with your people, there is no greater place in our country to do that than in the Navy.”
— Chaplain Justin Bernard, LT, USN
Justin Bernard was torn. Every generation on both sides of his family had served in the military. Having grown up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Justin – the son of a Navy Chief Gunner’s Mate – wanted to serve too. But then during college came a very clear call to ministry.
“I was really battling because all my life I’d wanted to go into the military,” he recalls. “God had called me to be a pastor, but I had this deep-rooted passion to serve.” Fortunately, the university he was attending launched a chaplain ministry program. “Navy Chaplaincy was created for me…or I was created for it. It just made sense.”
In 2009, Bernard found the best of both worlds when he entered the Navy Reserve after earning a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies. For 1½ years, he commuted once a month from his home in Virginia to Jacksonville, Fla., to be with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14. “They just took me in,” he says. “When they would drill, I would be with them. I got to do weekend services every month and field services during Annual Training.”
But beyond services was his strong call to be even more a part of this ministry of presence. “My job was to be around, on the drill pad, out in the shop, swinging hammers and being with them.” The pastor grew close to those he served. Often, his ministry began when Reserve weekend was over. “We were only together for a couple of days a month, but the conversations, the emails, the Facebooking would continue all month long,” he says. “We were always connected, even if we only saw each other once a month.”
So in 2011, Chaplain Bernard chose to enter Active Duty, moving to Tennessee with his wife to take on the assignment of Chaplain Candidate Program Manager. In this role, his responsibilities include shepherding approximately 175 Chaplain candidates through the process of earning seminary degrees, as well as through Navy Officer and Chaplain training.
The Navy has given Bernard the opportunity to earn two master’s degrees, in religion-church ministries and religious education. In addition, the Navy affords him a wide diversity of experience – from ministering to Seabees (members of the Navy Construction Battalion) and Marines to mentoring young Chaplains – near home, on ships or in air wings all across the globe.
“It is a humbling job,” Bernard says, “and an honor to serve both God and country at once!”
For That Day
“I was with the Seabees as a Reserve Chaplain when we had a suicide in the unit. I was down to be with the family and then to be with the unit while they were grieving.
There were about 250 Seabees in the gymnasium, and I was there to give a suicide awareness brief when I had this moment. I told them, ‘I understand what’s on this slideshow, but I want to share my heart about the experience I’ve had over the last day and a half of being with this family.’
They all connected very quickly. We set aside the training for 10 minutes, and I got to purely minister to everyone. I got done speaking and had a number of people come and sit and talk and cry and weep and share life that day.
It was heartbreaking and phenomenal at the same time.
Later, I went back to my hotel room and realized something. If for no other reason, I came into the Reserves for that day.”
— Chaplain Justin Bernard, LT, USN