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Navy Chaplain Wayne MacRae

Ministering to a Distracted Generation

Navy Chaplain Wayne MacRae
  • Rachael Varnum
  • July 13, 2021

Moments before, noise filled the ship. Now silence. With TVs, phones, and conversations hushed, the ship mirrored the stillness of the sea. Busyness would return, but during the two-minute call to prayer, Chaplain Wayne MacRae ’80 held the attention of the Navy recruits.

For 29 years Wayne has been battling for the souls of Navy men and women. Competing with the distractions that bombard the sailors is challenging, but there’s no better opportunity to reach them than by being together at sea. “For me, being out at sea is very much a spiritual experience,” Wayne says. “You get that sense of being insignificant and yet recognize that there’s a God who loves you.” When sailors are deployed for the first time, the vastness of the sea often causes them to reflect. “People really do some soul searching. And God can open some incredible doors of ministry,” he says. “On a small ship, when you’re the only chaplain, you work with people who represent different faith groups and you’re the spiritual pastor for the unit.”

Faced with new questions and thoughts about life, the sailors attend worship services and come with spiritual questions. For Wayne, these conversations have been some of the best opportunities to share the gospel. Whether serving sailors out at sea or working from an administrative position, Wayne says that his primary mission is always “to be a representative of God and Jesus Christ in the work environment, to live out what it means to be a person of faith, and to try to reflect the love and the compassion of God.”

Wayne did not always plan on becoming a chaplain. Other than his father’s two-year term in the Korean War, he does not come from a military background. Instead, Wayne’s high school dream was to become a helicopter pilot. But when Wayne reached six-foot-one, he exceeded the pilot height requirements. Changing his plans, Wayne attended Moody Bible Institute after high school. In 1980, he graduated as a Bible and Theology major, going on to finish his bachelor’s at Northeastern Bible College. After receiving his master’s at Wheaton College, Wayne served as an associate pastor for seven years at First Baptist Church of Mount Clemens in Clinton Township, Michigan.

During that time, several military families encouraged Wayne to consider military chaplaincy. Wayne decided to apply in 1992. Because the other military branches were not hiring new chaplains, Wayne joined the Navy. As part of his responsibilities, Wayne served as a pastor for the crews on ships deployed out of San Diego. Later he served in new roles, working as a prison chaplain, training new chaplains for service, traveling internationally to work with other chaplains, and serving in administrative positions.

In addition to serving sailors and marines, Wayne has worked with chaplains who hold a wide variety of beliefs. When navigating their differences in the work environment, he says that most chaplains claim the motto “cooperation without compromise.” Wayne hopes to point his coworkers to Christ through his actions. He says, “It’s always, I think, more a matter of witness through the way that we live our lives, rather than trying to challenge each other on what it is we believe.”

When leading services on ships, Wayne says, “You get people of the body of Christ of various traditions together worshiping with each other. And you have the blessing of seeing conversions, you have blessings of being able to baptize people.”

Wayne is still working as a chaplain in the Navy. After serving for three years as a member of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, he and his wife, Jan, recently returned to Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps base where Wayne has worked in the past. In his new position, Wayne serves as a base and regional chaplain, overseeing nearby chaplains and programs.

Today, distractions pose a mounting challenge in connecting with recruits. “It is such a tremendous challenge to break in through the midst of that flood of entertainment, to help people see the need to change the way that we think about the world,” Wayne says. “That’s what’s been in the back of my mind, probably at least the last decade of doing ministry in the Gulf areas—the great need for people to begin to filter out what they put in their minds, to change the way that they think, to accept God’s truth.”

About the Author

  • Rachael Varnum