In 1942, about six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Christian Reformed Church in North America hosted its annual synod. During this meeting, delegates officially recognized and named the ministry of chaplaincy in the denomination and declared it to be a “place of grace.” By the time World War II ended in 1945, 26 Calvin Seminary graduates had served as chaplains to armed forces all over the world.
Eighty years later, CRCNA military chaplains still serve all over the world. U.S. Army chaplain Kyu Hahn, for example, recently returned from a 10-month deployment to Poland in which the mission focus and purpose drastically changed when Russia invaded Ukraine. Of more than 150 Christian Reformed chaplains in ministry today, 24 serve in the U.S. or Canadian military.
This year, one of the most significant military chaplains from the CRCNA’s 80 years of ministry to the armed forces, U.S. Coast Guard chief of chaplains Rev. Tom Walcott, retired. Prior to joining the Navy Chaplain Corps in 1994, Walcott served as a missionary in the Dominican Republic and as pastor of Baymeadows Community Church in Jacksonville, Fla.
As a Navy chaplain, Walcott supported the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Over the years he had assignments that took him from providing pastoral care to recovery teams in New York at Ground Zero after 9/11 to helping with disaster relief in Indonesia as part of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group following the 2004 tsunami. In 2008-09 Walcott served in Iraq as chief of operations for the Religious Leader Engagement Program.
Walcott made his most indelible impact during his multiple tours with the Coast Guard, when he served Coast Guardsmen, their families, and the chaplains that ministered to them. He was appointed as the 11th Coast Guard chief of chaplains in April of 2018 and served until his retirement this past April.
Throughout his 28 years in the Navy, Walcott often was stationed in communities that had Christian Reformed congregations. He kept close ties with numerous churches, and at his retirement ceremony current and former pastors from Anaheim (Calif.) CRC, Brookfield (Wisc.) CRC, Washington DC CRC, and Ocean View CRC (Norfolk, Va.), came to show their appreciation.
During the ceremony Walcott reminded those gathered that his wife, Jaci, kept everything going at home during his times away. She also helped families of Coast Guardsmen who weren’t being paid during the government shutdown of 2018-2019.
Walcott’s children and grandchildren shared stories about his influence on their lives and his love not only for them, but also for the Coast Guard. As he and Jaci retire to Grand Haven, Mich., Walcott will continue serving as a volunteer chaplain in the Coast Guard Auxiliary at Sector Field Office Grand Haven.
“We give thanks to Tom for his many years of service and for the ministry he was able to accomplish,” said Sarah Roelofs, ministry consultant with the CRCNA’s chaplaincy office. “We also ask for your ongoing prayers for chaplains who are continuing to extend the ministry of the CRCNA to those serving in our military. This has been part of our denominational witness for the past 80 years, and we pray for God to continue to protect and guide these men and women as they serve today.”