Like most religious figures, Bryan K. Finch works to provide guidance and assistance to the people he serves. But unlike his civilian counterparts, he only has a few years to spend with each group.
Finch is starting his second year as the command chaplain at the . He supervises two staff chaplains, as well as a civilian administrative assistant and intern, and oversees the service academy’s religious program.
“One of the big differences is you’re required to wear a uniform,” said Finch. “Another big difference is you’re required to transfer every two to three years.”
Finch saw a good portion of the world even before entering a role with this requirement. He grew up in the small town of Cartersville, Ga. as one of four children in his family. Every Sunday, they would attend a Southern Baptist church.
“Church as a major component of my life and a major component of strength and support,” said Finch.
Following his graduation from two Methodist schools, Reinhardt College and LeGrange College, Finch joined the Navy. His first assignment brought him to this region, where he was part of the Naval Submarine Support Facility in Groton. After a tour on board the USS Yosemite, he enrolled in the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Upon his graduation in 1988, Finch wanted to enter a military chaplaincy program. Although openings were hard to come by, he was able to serve as an Army chaplain during Desert Storm and stayed overseas in Europe. He returned to the Navy around 1993, attended a chaplain officer course, and did his first tour of duty as a Navy chaplain aboard a guided missile cruiser based in San Diego.
Navy chaplains cover other service branches as well, namely the Marines and Coast Guard. After serving aboard an aircraft carrier and doing a combat tour in Afghanistan, Finch began working with the Coast Guard. The academy is his third tour with the branch, following stints in Yorktown, Va. and District 13 in Washington, D.C.
Religion is prominent on campus. Of the 1,035 cadets in the classes of 2012 to 2015, only four declared themselves to be atheists. Forty-six percent described themselves as Protestant, while 39 percent described themselves as Catholic.
Though these are the two main services offered in the academy’s chapel, Finch works to ensure that other beliefs are supported as well. Religious activities on the site include study and reflection time, an interfaith council, counseling, and clubs. Finch said an effort is underway to organize the academy’s first club of Muslim students.
In addition to these efforts, Finch strives to offer a flexible schedule to address cadets' crises or emergencies.
“That’s true of all ministry, I’d say, both civilian and military,” he said. “There’s always that unknown element.”
Although the transfer requirement gives Finch only a temporary amount of time with each group of people, he said he enjoys seeing new faces at each assignment. At the academy, he said the most rewarding part of the job is being part of the cadets’ lives and watching them grow spiritually.
“It’s a fantastic ministry. My family really enjoys being here with the cadets,” said Finch. “Cadets often teach you more than you teach them.”