Category 3 hurricane winds pounded the USS Iwo Jima as it battled the merciless Atlantic Ocean. Hurricane Matthew’s course had taken an unexpected turn, colliding paths with the ship as it headed to the storm-beaten island of Haiti. But onboard, the worship service continued. Navy chaplain Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) David Downey’s voice carried strong, “And they came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then He arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging water: and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24).
On the ship, the Combat Logistics Battalion 24 and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit remained undeterred by the elements. Soon they would arrive and disembark with food and water, prepared to revive the island following the damaging 145 mph winds.
A chaplain poised for missions like this, LCDR David Downey (Bible ’06, M. Div. ’10) has cared for the spiritual well-being of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard for the past 9 years. As command chaplain of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Sector Northern New England, he said, “Naval chaplaincy is people-centric instead of chapel-centric. We take our services to our people as we serve alongside them.”
In 2006, Downey graduated with a Bible degree with a pastoral ministries concentration from Pensacola Christian College. Then he earned a Master of Divinity online in 2010. “I chose PCC for their high view of Scripture, standards of conduct, and academic excellence,” he said. “As a relatively immature believer, a pastoral degree offered the best opportunity for me to grow in Bible knowledge, develop spiritual roots, and learn the skill sets necessary for leading others in ministry.”
During his studies, Downey’s wife experienced a life-threatening illness. Two of his teachers visited and prayed with them both, demonstrating what they taught in the classroom. “It was refreshing to see the instruction being lived out by the ones who were doing the instructing,” Downey said.
He first learned about military chaplaincy from a classmate. “After researching the different branches of service and how they utilized chaplains, the Navy was the most appealing for me. They stressed a ‘ministry of presence,’” Downey said. “Ministry as a military chaplain comes with incredible access to the men and women of the uniformed services. A chaplain is embedded into a command and sought out for advice and counsel as it pertains to command decisions, the well-being of service members, and spiritual guidance.”
Downey has influenced many marines and sailors in restricted areas in both combat and non-combat environments. As he “trains, works alongside, and builds relationships with them in real-time,” he applies a unique tool called “privileged communication.” This allows servicemembers to seek spiritual counsel “without fear of reprisal. Consequently, conversations with servicemembers are real, raw, open, and honest,” he said.
Each day, Downey ministers through counseling, command advising, traveling, training, and conducting services. He said, “Being a graduate of Pensacola Theological Seminary has given me a competitive edge among my peers and afforded me specialty assignments I otherwise would not have had,” he said. “I have shaped policy in the recruitment process of accessing chaplains into the Navy, the way the Coast Guard assesses moral injury, and how Navy chaplains conduct suicide prevention.” In 2017 he deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to support Operation Inherent Resolve, sharing God’s Word with the men and women defending the U.S. against terrorism.
LCDR Downey is positioned to be a witness to U.S. soldiers—during a hurricane, in the desert, or heading into combat—which inevitably reaches their families at home. He appreciates the privilege to serve alongside uniformed officers and to hear their stories. He is equipped to “help them make sense of their situation in light of a biblical worldview, and then see them yield their will to God’s. There is no greater joy than to lead someone who is willing to give their life for freedom to the freedom of salvation that is in Christ Jesus,” he said.