Sounds like a rock group or a bumper sticker, doesn’t it? For a local minister, however, that phrase has become part of her ministry and life.
Pastor Martha Kester of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Forest Avenue spent a year deployed in Afghanistan with the Iowa National Guard’s 334th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd of the 34th Brigade Combat Team Infantry Division. Her unit received initial training for several months at Camp Shelby in Mississippi beginning August, 2010. The Brigade deployed to Bagram in Afghanistan in the Fall of 201, returning to Iowa in July, 2011.
While attending Trinity School for Ministry in Pennsylvania, Kester became friends with a fellow seminarian, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant who explained the value of chaplains. Kester then learned from the recruiter that the age limit for enlistment had been increased to 40.
“I don’t believe it was a coincidence. God had a plan for me,” Kester says, reflecting on the chance encounter.
Kester received her commission the day before graduating from Trinity. She began serving St. Luke’s in August 2006 as the assistant priest and was called as its rector before her deployment in 2010. Upon serving the required two years of parish ministry, she received her endorsement from the Episcopal Church and was commissioned as a chaplain in January 2009.
In Afghanistan, Kester’s blessings on the soldiers prior to a convoy’s “leaving the wire” became an important ritual, and attendance was high. Soldiers looked to Kester as someone who represented the presence of God even in a hostile environment. Among her duties, Kester traveled to various regions in the country where some of her soldiers were stationed to provide a ministry of presence along with an ear for those soldiers needing some confidential conversation.
Kester continues as part-time chaplain in addition to her full time duties as rector. She attends Guard drills each month, provides follow up support for her soldiers as they readjust to life in Iowa, and cares for her congregation at St. Luke’s.
“What I do with the Guard makes me a better parish priest and what I do in the parish makes me a better chaplain.”
The congregation provided ongoing support while she was deployed; while they continue to share her with the National Guard, they are very happy to have her back in their embrace.
Information provided by Jim McLallen, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 3424 Forest Ave., Des Moines, 515-277-0875
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