Blue Angels chaplain' ministers amid crisis

PENSACOLA, Fla. — For Lieutenant Michael Peyton, being on deck to offer a hand of comfort, a Kleenex or a word of prayer in tragic times is all part of his assignment.

On April 25 Chaplain Peyton stood with the men and women of the Navy's famed Blue Angels as the flag-draped casket of Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis, the Blue Angels pilot who died April 21, was carried off a transport plane and placed into a waiting hearse.

The Blue Angels' C-130, "Fat Albert," flew into Sherman Field at Pensacola Naval Air Station bearing the body of the single 32-year-old pilot who died when his No. 6 F/A-18 crashed during an air show in Beaufort, S.C. Davis' private memorial service will take place at the base chapel this weekend when the native of Pittsfield, Mass., will be buried with full military honors at a private funeral on base at Barrancas National Cemetery.

Peyton, who is a chaplain endorsed by the North American Mission Board, said it is in times like this that a "ministry of presence" is most important in ministering to grieving military members and their families.

Just hours before the plane landed at NAS Pensacola, Peyton walked through the Blue Angels' home, the hangar of Training Air Wing Six, assuring team members of his thoughts and prayers.

Grasping the hand of the Maintenance Master Chief Jerry Welch, Peyton reminded the somber man he was available if anyone needed to talk.

"I'll be back," Peyton promised, walking outside to greet members of the team who were polishing a Blue Angel jet parked in front of the hangar. In honor of Davis, the jet was repainted with a No. 6, as well as Davis' name.

Peyton told the Florida Baptist Witness that in addition to his other duties as a base chaplain, his assignment to the aviation training division, including the Blue Angels, comes with a touch of irony since he dropped out of the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Florida before he became a Christian and had hoped one day to be a pilot.

Comfortable with and familiar to Angels' team members, Peyton, a member of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Pensacola, said he prays God will use him in this and other circumstances to be a living testament of the Gospel.

"One of the rules of thumb in the Navy's chaplain corps is just the power of presence of the chaplain," Peyton said. "I'm there representing Jesus Christ, or God in the wider sense. In my case, I'm there representing Jesus Christ and the power and the peace that brings — just through the chaplain's presence. That can be a powerful presence."

Published, May 2007