Change of Command
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“Every day of my career, I talked to people far from home,” says Denley, 60. “They may never have contact with any other Christian ministers, but they knew their chaplain. The relationship between a chaplain and sailors, Marines, and their families can be very close.”
Denley hopes many credentialed Assemblies of God ministers will consider the possibility of the military as a vocation.
“Military chaplaincy is a place for those who have a compassionate heart to reach the unchurched,” says Denley, who earned his Master of Divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Denley of course knows that, while rewarding, chaplaincy can be challenging.
“In addition to their demanding job requirements, chaplains face many of the same marriage, children, and financial issues as those they minister to,” Denley says. “They uproot every two or three years. They must start over with church relationships, their spouse must find a new job, and their kids go to new schools. It’s a life of continual transition, but the ministry opportunities are endless.”
Denley proved to be ahead of the curve in recognizing potential mental health hazards of the profession. While self-care is now widely considered for spiritually healthy chaplains, Denley in 2008 received the Association of Professional Chaplains highest honor, the Anton Boisen Award. The professional alliance awarded Denley for his pioneering techniques in improving the quality of pastoral care for Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard personnel.
Family military involvement runs deep. Denley’s father, Hosea, and six of his father’s brothers served simultaneously in the Army, Marine Corps, and Army Air Corps during World War II. Hosea Denly, who flew missions over North Africa and Europe, received 10 Air Medals for heroism. Eventually Hosea switched to the Navy, where he retired as a senior chief petty officer.
And Denley’s wife, Sue, actually served in the Navy before he did. A retired Taekwondo instructor, Sue found teaching the martial art helpful in ministering to women who had been abused.
The Denleys, who have been married 38 years, have one daughter, Bethany Skvortsova. She lives in Germany with her husband, Genya Skvorstov, who is a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Denley served as command chaplain of the USS Mississippi and went on four overseas tours, to the Philippines, Italy, Kuwait, and Iraq. His staff assignments included the Navy Surgeon General’s Office, the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office, Marine Corps Forces Command, and Navy Medicine East.
Deployed in 2010, assigned to U.S. Forces Iraq. He generally had the trust of everyone from U.S. State Department officials to Iraqi Muslim leaders. While assigned to the Pentagon, Denley worked on policies and strategies to support training and equipping chaplains.
Denley succeeds Scott McChrystal, who served as the AG’s national military representative for the past 14 years.
McChrystal, 70, says Denley always has led others with a pastor’s heart.
“Jim Denley is unquestionably one of the finest chaplains I’ve known,” McChrystal says. “He understands military culture, he’s very smart, and he has interpersonal skills that will help him to be enormously effective as a military representative and endorser for the Assemblies of God. He and Sue are an awesome ministry team.”
Denley says he has big shoes to fill.
“Scott is a remarkable pastor and leader who has had influence in the military chaplaincy from the highest levels down,” Denley says. “Without a lot of fanfare, he talks to chaplains about being men and women of God without compromise. Scott is a true Christian witness.”
As he reflects on his just-concluded naval career, which he finished as a captain, the soft-spoken Denley doesn’t focus on his promotions or the importance of the positions he held. Instead, he remembers the one-on-one encounters that helped sailors and Marines get through a rough patch in their marriage, strengthen their faith in the Lord, or help them decompress after the rigors of combat.
“There were many times over the years when I was appointed to be God’s representative to a person at a dark moment in life,” Denley says. “I found that rewarding and humbling.”