Coast Guard Chaplain Leads With Laughter
by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Melissa McKenzie
December 17, 2020
She makes her daily rounds wearing a smile so wide it’s visible behind her mask. She greets each person as though they’re a long lost friend, eager to catch up.
She enters each workspace dropping dad jokes on unsuspecting bystanders who either laugh or groan at the newest addition to her repertoire. Today’s zinger? “What do you call it when Batman skips church?” Wait for it. “Christian Bail.” The cross on her collar adds to the joke’s potency.
Born to an “airdale” in Clearwater, Fla., and raised in Kodiak, Alaska, Lt.j.g. Sarah Gomez-Lorraine is no stranger to military life or the Coast Guard family. Her journey to becoming a Coast Guard chaplain has been years in the making. And it has only just begun.
“It’s pretty full circle,” said Gomez-Lorraine, a Navy chaplain currently serving her first assignment as chaplain at Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. “I’m a Coastie brat. My father was in the Coast Guard for about 28 years. Putting on trops, that was the same uniform I saw my father in as a child growing up. To get to be a Navy chaplain with the Coast Guard, it really is fantastic. I truly feel like this is my life’s work and what I have been called to do.”
Gomez-Lorraine enlisted in the Navy at age 30, “which was very humbling,” she chuckled. After enlisting, she was “voluntold” to become an aviation electrician's mate in the P3 community. “I had a great time, and I learned so much about the Navy on the enlisted side that I think only added to the education that I did not get in the seminary.
I realized that working alongside these individuals drenched in grease and fuel, that’s when I would start to hear the stories of what was really going on with them and how they were doing,” she said. “And that’s what got me excited about going to work every day and it’s still true.” That’s when she got “the call” to be a chaplain.
After five years, she completed the Navy chaplain candidate program officers (CCPO) in 2018. She entered active duty in January 2020 as an ordained reverend through the Covenant of the Cross, an independent Charismatic tradition. Her religious organization is the Coalition of Spirit-Filled Churches.
If given one word to describe the chaplain, it’s “boisterous,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jimmy Carr, a storekeeper at Sector Anchorage. “She always brings a great energy to the room any time she comes in.”
Being visible, for her, is an important element for establishing connections with the people and allowing permission for people so that when something happens, they feel safe and comfortable approaching her. “I also am a big proponent of dad jokes,” she laughed. “I think that sets a wonderful tone. I know that they’re pretty bad and I love to hear other people either groan or laugh. I think it’s important.”
“Chaplain Gomez-Lorraine has an incredible ability to connect with everyone through joy and humor,” said Capt. Leanne Lusk, commanding officer of Sector Anchorage. “Everyone looks forward to her joke of the day, and her positivity consistently brightens the room as she visits office spaces and field units. She truly is Sector Anchorage’s MVP.”
Dad jokes aside, for Gomez-Lorraine, the most rewarding aspect of serving as a chaplain is hearing people’s stories. “I don’t think there is anything more sacred to me than someone’s story. Not everybody is worthy of hearing your story so when someone comes in and shares that with me, that’s where I find the divine in this work. To me, that is a very strong guidepost. I better make sure I’m good enough to hold the sacredness of their story because they’re coming with a lot of courage to share it with me.”
Though the Navy Chaplain Corps comprises more than 800 Navy chaplains from more than 100 different faith groups they are all united by four guiding principles:
- Providing religious ministry and support to those of your own faith
- Facilitating the religious requirements of those from all faiths
- Caring for all servicemembers and their families, including those subscribing to no specific faith
- Advising the command in ensuring the free exercise of religion
No two chaplains are alike ... How they approach their chaplaincy varies as greatly as the individuals who answer the “call”.
Gomez-Lorraine approaches her chaplaincy similarly to how the Coast Guard approaches search and rescue. “When someone makes the SOS call they are reaching out to the Coast Guard to say ‘I trust that when I tell you I need help, you are going to show up.’ And the Coast Guard shows up no matter the weather, no matter the conditions. If they can they will. They go without knowing the full context of what’s going on because someone needs help. That is the catalyst that brings our people into harm’s way to go make sure that they get rescued. As a chaplain, it’s the same thing.”
Lt.j.g. Sarah Gomez-Lorraine, chaplain at Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, poses in front of an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter after conducting an area familiarization flight in 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard photo - November 28, 2020)
Caring is the most essential characteristic for a chaplain. Chaplains need to have heart. To her, the most important thing is to sincerely care about what is going on with the people she is entrusted to serve, balanced with a deep appreciation of the courage it takes for someone to take that first step and say “Hey Chaps, do you have a moment?”
“Care is crucial,” she emphasized. “Care is understood in different ways, but for me it’s to say I am going to be as present with you as I possibly can. I might not be able to fix this, but I’m going to be right here with you and I’m going to journey with you.”
With an ongoing pandemic, polarization, and the emotional turmoil so many are experiencing right now, Gomez-Lorraine reminds us to be kind to ourselves. “This summer my wife’s grandmother died with no other medical complications but COVID,” she said. “So we’ve experienced it personally and I think everyone has experienced varying degrees of loss and grief during this time. This has changed. It’s changed the way we see each other. It’s changed the way we interact with each other. What I’ve been promoting is the importance of being kind to yourself in the transition.”
Her words serve as a reminder to show ourselves the same compassion we show others, to take pride in who we are, and know that, in the Coast Guard, there will always be someone there to listen if we can find the courage to ask.
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