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Your Life Calling

A Chaplain's Journey to the Cloth

U.S. Army Chaplain Richard Rittmaster talks with Jane Pauley about the process by which he became a chaplain in the military

“Drying out” probably isn’t the way most people would like to describe their life. Happy, vibrant, purposeful, content: yes; drying out – not so much. But that’s how Chaplain Richard Rittmaster felt about his life prior to making a big change that would bring him a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. What was that change? He joined the Army – as a chaplain.

See also: Looking for hope, 10 years after 9/11.

Signing up for the Army is typically the domain of young men and women yearning to launch their careers through acquiring new skills, getting out of small towns, or just wanting to do their part in serving the country.

Rittmaster found his way in by following a distinctly different path.

As Lutheran minister for a church in Minnesota, he had become so good at what he did that he was given a wide range of administrative functions such as fundraising, community relations, and managing the personnel in the church. This work accounted for up to 80% of his time, and yet the other 20% - the preaching and the counseling is what fed his soul and was his true calling.

This imbalance led to the “drying out” phase that left him questioning his place in the church and the direction he was headed in his career. Rittmaster reflects on this, “If we’re feeding our soul, it’s gonna be green, and vibrant, and growing. If we neglect it…if we’re not engaged in the kind of alignment with things that really give us life, then this is what we’re gonna end up with…drying out.”

In the midst of this, Rittmaster answered an ad for a chaplain in the Minnesota Army National Guard, and two months later, at the age of 49, he was in the United States Army. It was the perfect fit for him. He had already been in the Air Force, so he knew the rigors and realities of military life and he had always had a particular affinity for counseling vets when he was a minister, but most importantly it brought him back into alignment with his faith.

“”To me it was God saying okay, this is the step now. And there was no equivocating in my mind. This was a manifestation of a path that was laid before me that was what I had been looking for for years,” Rittmaster notes. And while the tasks of a chaplain are not for the faint of heart – having to inform a family about the loss of their soldier and working with soldiers to help them cope with the trauma experienced on the battlefield – Rittmaster has found his calling, “What the military has allowed me to do is exercise the gifts that most engage me and create enthusiasm in me.”

After reaching his own personal low point, Rittmaster was able to persevere to find his place in the world. He feels that others should strive to do the same, “the message that I would like to communicate to folks is that the more you learn, the more generative you can be in passing that on to other people and creating good energy, that’s success. It’s that we’re able to step into this amazing thing called life and experience it fully…and to love someone and to be able to do the things that are congruent with who you are and make you happy. That’s pretty good, and that’s what it’s about.”

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