“I wanted to work with a broad range of people from a range of religious traditions, not just my own denomination. I also wanted to be able to travel and work with young people, and I knew that the Military afforded those opportunities…”
Having already received his Master of Divinity degree, Jeff Saville was working as a minister in Florida when he decided to consider the Military as a way to follow his religious calling. For Jeff, the Military offered a chance to step away from a standard Sunday worship and work with a dynamic, constantly evolving and mobile congregation.
Jeff began his joining process by speaking to a Navy recruiter. The recruiter put him in touch with other Navy chaplains, who answered the many questions Jeff had. He liked what he heard and decided to join. Soon after, he went to a training facility in Newport, R.I., where he began his military career at the Navy Chaplain School. Almost immediately, Jeff got his first taste of the religious diversity he was looking for.
“The chaplains that come [into the Navy] are from a very, very broad range of faith backgrounds. Among Christians, there are well over a hundred different faith groups. We also have Islamic chaplains; there are a number of Jewish chaplains and even one Buddhist chaplain in the Navy.”
The Military doesn’t train chaplains on how to preach their own faith. This ability is presumed. Instead, these faith leaders are learning how to operate in the Military, “so that we can function as staff officers like any others.”
Upon completing Navy Chaplain School, Jeff was stationed in Gulfport, Miss., where he split his time between in-port training and various deployments. During those first two years, he traveled to Spain, Somalia and Guam. Whether on base or at sea, a large part of Jeff’s job involved making himself available to the men and women who need an ear, a voice or a helping hand.
“We do what we call a ministry of presence, where I just go around and see people and ask them how it’s going — how their wife is doing, has the baby arrived yet? It’s kind of like taking the pulse of the morale.”
When not “ministering by wandering,” Jeff was also engaged in the traditional role of preaching. Over the course of his 18 years in the Military, he has provided services from a tent in Somalia, a library-turned-chapel aboard a ship, a chapel in Spain and an ancient church in London — just to name a few. He has visited 33 countries in total, and whether through leading worship, counseling personnel and their families or fostering cultural religious exchanges, he has made a notable mark in each.
Jeff has worked directly with the community as well. For example, he has helped the Navy create relationships with local schools and school children in San Diego. When his ship came to port, individuals like Chaplain Saville and other Sailors would “go into the local classrooms to tutor students or to supervise playground activities, etc.” Their efforts were recognized with a Navy-wide award for the ship.
Currently, Jeff is stationed in San Diego as a fleet chaplain.
“I’m supervising chaplains. I provide a portion of their training before they deploy. That way these religious ministry teams of chaplains and their enlisted assistants know what to do and how to work together as a team when they go forward to the Western Pacific or the Gulf.”
Looking forward, Jeff plans to stay in the Military continuing to make a positive impact on Sailors and Marines. Whatever the future holds for this good-natured and knowledgeable chaplain, one thing is certain — his time in the Navy has been meaningful and satisfying to himself and the many people he has served.
“My work, my efforts, teamed up with other people, have made a positive difference for American servicemembers and their families and to the citizens of our partner nations. Those are things that will never change, and I feel great satisfaction in knowing that my time [in the Navy] was well spent.”