MARTINSBURG, W.V. (Christian Examiner) – James Pierce prays for soldiers every day on his 100-mile commute to work, which begins before dawn. He rides his motorcycle from his home in Maryland to the Martinsburg Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center where he is one of six chaplains at the 465-bed facility.
Why does Pierce care so much about veterans? Because he is one.
After 12 years in the Air Force, the man who grew up afraid of water got a divinity degree from Southern Methodist University and answered a call to become a Navy chaplain.
"When a vessel pulls away from the pier, you have a captive audience," Pierce, now retired, said in an interview for a Chick-Fil-A publication.
He described his navy chaplaincy as meeting people where they were, in part because of the confined space of the ship. "We used to just lean up against the walls and talk," he said.
That practice trained him in being open to having hard conversations anywhere, something that he must be prepared to do every day at the hospital, which provides every type of care except open heart surgery.
Pierce likes to make himself available in the Intensive Care Unit, where people are often willing to engage in conversation with someone who will offer compassionate counsel. "Most people want to talk," Pierce said. "We talk a lot about acceptance."
SERVICE TO VETERANS
The chaplain to veterans recently appeared at a Military Appreciation event at a Maryland Chick-fil-A in order to honor those who have served or are still serving in the military. Serving veterans is his calling and his passion, he said, adding he has been encouraged to start a church but feels he is still in the right place, albeit one that is 100 miles from where he lives.
Being a motorcycle owner—he rides a 2006 Honda Goldwing—has helped Pierce make friendships among those he seeks to counsel.
Once, he helped to break an intense mood in an ICU room by fainting at the sight of a young man's wounds obtained in a motorcycle accident. "I'm a motorcyclist, and it was just too close to home," he said. Pierce and the patient have become friends—the story is always good for a laugh between them.
Pierce adheres to the words of John Wesley: "The world is my parish."
From service in the military to service to military veterans, Pierce will take his motorcycle and God's message anywhere he is called.