Profile: Jay West
Clarksville, TN, USA
Jay West stands alongside soldiers as a visible reminder of God’s presence.
“I get people who literally will look at me and say, ‘Chaplain, where in the hell is God?'”
United Methodist Army Chaplain Jay West says he has the best job in the world.
“I get to stand as a visible reminder on behalf of God’s holy church and say that even in the midst of the most unholy there is the presence of the holy.”
Jay, Army broadcast chaplain for American Forces Network Europe, was first a battalion chaplain at Fort Campbell, Ky., and spent a year in Iraq. While there, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.
He is familiar with the pain, anxiety, adrenaline rush, loneliness, and flood of emotions that wash over a soldier and his or her family in times of war.
Growing up in a little country church in West Va., Jay says he never thought he would be a pastor. The idea of being a chaplain “wasn’t even on my radar screen.”
Jay credits many mentors, including parents who raised him in the church, for helping him become who he is today. A Sunday school teacher, Miss Edith, taught him how to pray in the third grade. “I can remember clearly her sitting down in Sunday school and really step by step walking us through how to pray.”
“There is a significant role the church plays in nurturing folks along their spiritual path,” he says. It was a conversation with another United Methodist chaplain, the Rev. Terry Bradfield, that helped him hear his call into chaplaincy.
Jay and his wife, Pam, felt God was calling them in a different direction after their fourth year in ministry at a local church in West Va.
Now, Jay, Pam and their two children Zachary, 16, and Samantha, 9, are living in Heidelberg, Germany. They attend Patrick Henry Village Chapel and are involved in a ministry for single soldiers called, “The Edge.”
“My family worships every Sunday with folks who are as diverse theologically as can be imagined, but we come together as the body of Christ,” he says.
“I truly love being with soldiers, and my preference would be to be out there living in the mud, in the dirt and the sand,” he says of his current position. “Nevertheless, this is where God, through the Army chaplaincy, has assigned me.”
He says it has been a bit of an adjustment in this new ministry, where he can’t see the tangible results.
“I’ve got a handful of soldiers now that I get to work with as a unit chaplain, but my parish stretches from Iceland to Turkey to Afghanistan to Iraq, all across Germany, Europe, Italy … to 56 countries.”
Jay uses the Apostle Paul’s analogy of the planter in his daily work.
“Paul says some of us are planters. One plants, one waters, one cultivates. And I don’t know from one day to the next—Am I planting a seed? Am I carrying a watering can? Is that the day I pull out the hoe and do a little bit of weeding? I don’t know. I just offer it up and say ‘Okay God, you transform my words into the message that that one person needs to hear today.’”
The following people contributed to this Profile:
Audio story by Mike Hickcox; print story by Kathy Gilbert.