Chaplaincy for MCIPAC through Chap Flynn’s Eyes
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- “I was adopted,” confided Patrick A. Flynn, the usually soft laugh lines that crinkle around his eyes sagging for a moment. “I wasn’t put in an orphanage. I was bounced around from family to family, relative to relative. I remember one of the first places that felt like home, felt safe, was the church.”
Upon his adoption, at the age of four-and-a-half years old, his parents introduced him to Lutheranism, and church became his first prominent feeling of belonging. The sense of security that church gave him inspired his future life goal: to help people. Flynn’s aspirations to make the world a better place was never an easy road.
“He first decided he wanted to be a pastor when he was quite young,” said his father, Michael Flynn. “We started bringing him to church after we adopted him and he’s been going ever since.”
As he continued to attend church, his desire to give back became more compelling.
“Most kids say, ‘I want to be a superhero, a firefighter or a Marine’ but I said, ‘I want to be a pastor,’” recalled Flynn his bright blue eyes twinkling.
Flynn’s journey to become a pastor took time.
After eight grueling years of school, Flynn graduated Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, with the same childhood goal in mind: to help people. But how? He began to meticulously examine his options, attempting to find the path that would lead him to his goal. After a long deliberation, Flynn found the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps.
Chaplains in the Navy uphold a sailor, Marine or coastguardsman’s right to practice their faith and receive moral and spiritual support. The Chaplain Corps comprises of approximately 800 Navy chaplains from more than 100 different religions. Each chaplain earns the prestigious title of Naval Officer. The first contract chaplains’ sign is for three years, but after that chaplains choose to serve indefinitely, until they day they feel they’ve fulfilled their calling. Chaplains provide service members with much needed solace and mentorship and act as a cornerstone for maintaining morale during overseas operations.
A pastor must be recognized and endorsed by a church body or religious organization prior to becoming a chaplain. Flynn’s religion, Lutheranism, required him to be a parish pastor for three years before earning the title of Chaplain.
In order to meet his denominational requirements, Flynn moved to Davenport, Nebraska to be a pastor. As time crawled by, Flynn grew to love the parish in rural Nebraska, and the people. Yet, despite the special place Nebraska held in his mind, a severe heartbreak turned Flynn back into the arms of the Chaplain Corps.
“I ended up returning an engagement ring,” said Flynn. “I needed a change of pace, a change of venue, something different. That parish will always have a special place in my heart but I needed to do something different. Overall it has been a blessing, it’s an honor to serve alongside the Marines. Marines need chaplains, they need me, and that keeps me going.”
Now, Lt. Patrick A. Flynn is the chaplain for Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan and strives to balance the expectations of the left side of his collar that holds his cross, and his rank on the right.
Flynn acts as a mental and spiritual 911, his hard work and dedication has altered the way that religious and nonreligious communities across Okinawa view chaplains.
“People believe that the chaplains are there as a type of first aid box,” said Flynn. “They only use them when there is an accident, but a chaplain’s purpose is more than just being a first aid kit. Chaplains are there to be with their Marines during good and bad, to be their chaplain.”
Flynn’s devotion and open door policy is known across Okinawa.
“Chaplain Flynn is very caring, whether they are religious or not, he loves to jump into the trenches with his people, the Marines,” said Maj. James Dollard, the provost marshal for Marine Corps Installations Pacific and Flynn’s friend. “He is genuinely concerned with their well-being and has always had that deep passion for Marines. Although chaplains have rank on their collar, it’s a different type of leadership and mentorship. I think that he looks at discipline within a different realm, when some officers might engage to correct, he engages with that Marine or sailor to find out the why.”
Flynn works tirelessly seven days a week, balancing the busy schedule of caring for hundreds of Marines with taking enough time to breathe. Due to the confidentiality of a chaplain, Flynn’s broad shoulders selflessly carry the weight of many men and women’s darkest secrets and worst moments but he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“What keeps me going is the ministry presence that I imperfectly represent,” explained Flynn. “It gives people hope, peace, comfort and strength in their darkest hour. I look at other jobs and they have to worry about their supplies, when a shipment comes in, or how to do something. I have to worry about making sure my people are okay, and that makes it one of the best jobs, if not the best job, in the Navy. One of a chaplain’s greatest tools is the ability to decompress, I’ll just take ‘me time,’ to separate myself from the barrage of emails, check in sheets, phone calls and various crises, just to breathe. Sometimes I find more time to breathe, other times not as much, but the Marines are always my priority.”
Flynn’s dedication to helping Marines has given him a positive reputation, one that his father can be proud of. As Flynn prepares to leave Okinawa, he finds more and more people are grateful for his time and endless positivity.
“Anytime I get any feedback from the people he is around, they say everything I would or could want my son to be,” gushed his father. “He has always liked to talk to people and meet them. I am so pleased, so proud.”