Erik Young

Teachable Moments
Chaplain Erik Young, LT, USNR

“I’m able to bring to the Navy a very pastoral presence. That’s an amazing gift to be able to bring — and my congregation supports me in it.”
— Chaplain Erik Young, LT, USNR

“Ever since he was a youngster, faith has been a central part of Erik Young’s life. “I always wanted to be part of something that makes the world better…that affects life in a positive way,” he says.

As he matured, a question remained: How best can I serve God and my fellow man?

In college, Erik was naturally drawn to a seminary program. Here, he grew in his Lutheran faith and learned the basics of serving in a local parish. But he felt that he was being called to something more. Then, after establishing himself in his own local parish as a youth minister, he met another pastor who offered words that would change his life: You’d be a great Navy Chaplain. You should join.

That’s how Erik Young found his way into the Navy Reserve.

One thing that helped Chaplain Young make his choice was the fact that he didn’t have to abandon his parishioners in order to serve his country. On the contrary, after learning about his chance to serve as a Navy Chaplain, the men and women of his congregation enthusiastically supported the decision. In their eyes, occasionally sharing their pastor with servicemembers was just another way to give back to the country they loved.

He explains, “A lot of times people ask questions like Wow, what does that ribbon mean?...or...What do you do? We call it a teachable moment. I help them understand what I do and whom I do it with. And it helps them see that part of their ministry is something bigger than this church.”

Back home, his parishioners are also the recipients of another benefit. “Serving in the Navy Reserve gives me new sermons, new stories, new ways to relate things to my congregation,” he says. And it all helps Chaplain Young to be even better equipped for the job of spiritual leader and counselor.

Nowadays, Chaplain Young spends two days a month serving with the Marines at a nearby base in California. One of his responsibilities is to work with Religious Program Specialists (Chaplain Assistants) to make sure they’re fully prepared and outfitted to embark on any mission at a moment’s notice.

In the end, Chaplain Young has found a perfect balance between serving God, country and those at his parish. “I can simply say it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It is something that has been rewarding for me and my congregation. It’s been rewarding for my family. There’s a sense of pride that you can’t really explain.”

There is also a sense of fulfillment that's quite evident. “When I come back from serving in the Navy Reserve, my wife says, You come back just exuding joy.”

An Absolute Honor

“One day I got a phone call, and I learned that one of my full-time staff was in the hospital, and he was very sick. It turned out that he had stage 4 cancer, even though he was not even 30 years old.

But this young man was there in the hospital with his wife and family, and I was able to be the pastor for them and their very small, close-knit community. We were there for him as we watched our friend die.

To be asked to be the Chaplain at his graveside, to be asked to speak at his mass – it was just an absolute honor. And to check in with the other men and women and to talk to them on a real level where they knew that it was okay to cry – the experience was simply profound.

When this young man was in his casket, his friends had to finish getting him dressed. And they just weren’t sure what to do with this dead body of their friend. They were struggling to put his neckerchief on.

I walked up and said, Do the same you’d want him to do for you. And I went over and I held up his head for them. Somehow that made it all okay for them to reach over and touch him and to get him ready for his funeral. And that right there was just powerful.”

— Chaplain Erik Young, LT, USNR