After six years serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fort Oglethorpe – and at 41 years old – Doyle Allen is joining the Navy.
In December last year, Allen appeared before five ranking Navy chaplains at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The officers questioned him at length to make sure he was suited for the position he sought – that of chaplain, serving the spiritual and emotional needs of men and women serving their country’s security needs.
"This is something that’s been on my heart for a long time," says Allen. "The cut-off age for becoming a Navy chaplain is 42, so it was now or never."
Allen had been meeting with the elders of his church for months before his Pentagon visit, discussing his plans and seeking their counsel and prayer. "The elders were very supportive and patient with the decision-making process," he says.
Allen announced to his congregation in January that he would be leaving for the Navy within a month.
"There’s a tremendous need for chaplains in the military," says Allen. "You have men and women, often as young as 18 years old, stepping off buses, about to face pressures they could never have imagined, things that may wound and scar them for the rest of their lives. My job will be to walk by their sides, to help them spiritually and emotionally. I’ll also be there for the commanders – military service places great strains on their marriages and relationships and they need to be emotionally and morally strong for those under them."
Allen will be leaving in the middle of February for training – five weeks of officer training in Newport, Rhode Island, then seven weeks of chaplain school in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. From there, he and his family will be moving to San Diego where he’s been assigned to his first post as an official chaplain. He doesn’t know yet if he’ll eventually be deployed overseas.
Becoming a pastor was not Allen’s initial plan for his life. "I had two big loves," he says, "the church and golf." Allen worked at a golf course for six years early in his adult life and dreamed of making a living in the industry, possibly as a greens keeper and instructor. But the idea of going into ministry or becoming a missionary also played at the edges of his mind.
"An elder at my church suggested I go to seminary," Allen says. "He told me to give it a shot for a year and see if I liked it."
Allen enrolled at Covenant College in St. Louis, Missouri, and found his calling. He married while he was in seminary, served two internships to grow as a leader and a pastor, pastored a church in West Virginia for five years and finally ended up in Fort Oglethorpe.
Allen says he feels his two sons are old enough now to weather the moves that might be involved as children of a Navy dad. "My wife and kids are all excited about the new experiences and opportunities that might come out of this," he says.
"Military chaplaincy affords you opportunities other situations don’t and it makes demands of you that other situations won’t," says Allen. "In the military, a chaplain will find himself ministering to people who wouldn’t normally end up in his church in civilian life. In addition, chaplains must faithfully navigate a pluralistic religious context.
"My job will be complex, from a faith standpoint. I’ll help and counsel those who want that, but there are times I’ll need to find another person to help someone – somebody within their faith or someone they’re comfortable with. Yet, I’ll be there for them if they need me."
Allen says part of his job will be to facilitate freedom of worship for everyone. "The Navy never expects me to compromise my own faith, but it will be my job to assure that not only people of my denomination but all service members are free to worship as they choose."
Allen recently had an experience in his own church that he says was instructive along these lines. "A young lady wanted to be baptized by immersion," he says. "That’s not how we do it in a PCA church, but the elders and I decided that she was sincere and fervent enough in her desire that we should work with her."
Allen contacted Neal Brown, pastor of Heritage Pointe Baptist Church, because First Presbyterian didn’t have an immersion baptismal. "He was gracious enough to allow us to hold a service at his church, to use their baptismal and to coach me on the logistics of safely and reverently performing a baptism by immersion.
"When the apostle Paul departed from the church at Ephesus where he had spent three years teaching, it was a bittersweet parting," says Allen. "He knew there would be hardships ahead. He was leaving people he loved and who had loved him. They prayed and wept together before he left. The congregation at Fort Oglethorpe has been family to me. They have loved my family and me well, and we’ve loved them. It’s a sad and happy time all in one."