Memorial Day holds significance for Missouri Baptist pastor/chaplain
By Bob Baysinger
May 25, 2004
|Army Maj. (Chaplain) Nick Catrow kneels at a soldier’s grave site at Fort Riley, Kan., where he has helped conduct funerals for soldiers killed in Iraq. Pathway photo|
FORT RILEY, Kan. – Nick Catrow can’t seem to get away from death.
It was about one year ago that this Missouri Baptist pastor accepted the challenge to help revive Harmony Baptist Church – a dying inner-city church in St. Louis – but he didn’t get a chance to complete the mission.
The U.S. Army decided Catrow, a major and chaplain in the Army Reserves, was needed to help deal with death resulting from the war in Iraq. So he was activated and sent to the home of the 1st Infantry Brigade at Fort Riley, Kan., to assist chiefly in the notification-of-next-of-kin process following the death of a 1st Infantry soldier in Iraq.
“Death notifications are the hardest things I have had to do,” Catrow said in a pre-Memorial Day interview with The Pathway. “Fort Riley has lost 37 soldiers in Iraq. Twenty-five have been part of my 1st Brigade. Of those, I have gone to about 17 notifications.”
Catrow said he feels a sense of inadequacy as he travels to a home or work site to notify the family about the death of their loved one.
“I can only help the family as I lean on Christ for my strength and guidance,” Catrow explained. “Sometimes I don’t say a word. I just cry with the family.”
According to Catrow, one of his most difficult notifications was to a wife who had been married less than 60 days.
“Eight days after they married her husband deployed to Iraq,” Catrow said. “We had to go to her work to make the notification. When she came into the room and saw the general and the chaplain standing there, she simply fell to the floor and started screaming.
“I believe she was in shock as we drove her back to her quarters. In the midst of her crying, all she did was say, ‘He’s not dead … He’s not dead … He’s not dead.’ Even after three days, she had not accepted the death of her husband.”
This soldier as well as thousands and thousands of other war dead will be remembered on Memorial Day, May 31, as the nation again sets aside a time to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.
On the first Memorial Day, U.S. Army Gen. and future President James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C., on May 30, 1868, as 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery. Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971.
It is a holiday which holds particular significance to Catrow who will complete a 30-year military career in June when he retires. He spent six years as an enlisted soldier and 24 years as a chaplain.
Since being activated to serve at Fort Riley, Catrow said the second most difficult thing he has had to do is conduct the memorial services.
“We conduct the memorial service for each soldier killed in Iraq from Fort Riley,” Catrow said. “I have conducted 18 of them personally, but was responsible for all 25 soldiers. I prepare each message individually, and I do not repeat any messages. It has become harder and harder to come up with new messages.”
Catrow said the entire Fort Riley base is impacted when word spreads about another member of the 1st Infantry being killed.
“It appears the entire base rallies around the families,” Catrow said. “The mood in the unit which loses the soldier drops momentarily as each wife realizes that it could have been her husband.
“One specific unit of mine lost 10 soldiers in Iraq , eight in four weeks. These families – as well as other families who lose husbands and fathers – receive counseling, encouragement, prayer and help from the command, mental health and the chaplaincy. At last check, the families in this unit were doing very well as a result of our help.”
Catrow will return to St. Louis in mid-June to resume his efforts to revive Harmony Baptist Church.
Catrow, with help from the Missouri Baptist Convention, Dixon Baptist Association and the St. Louis Baptist Metro Board, will be using a plan originated by Harvey Kniesel of First Baptist Church, Houston, Texas, to revive inner-city churches.
“Harmony Baptist had reverted to a mission status,” said Benny King, director of missions in the St. Louis Baptist Metro Association. “It was a strong inner-city church about seven years ago when I came to the association. But there were internal church problems.
“When Nick was called as pastor, the church had just started to grow when the military activated him. When he gets back, it’s going to be a phenomenal thing. We’re going to have five congregations meeting in the same building.”
“Harmony Baptist is going to be a real challenge,” Catrow said. “The church has been reduced to a faithful few. Many members have migrated from the inner city to the county. As they moved out, they have been replaced by people from many different countries.”
King said the church is surrounded by people from Bosnia, Haiti, Vietnam, China, Africa and Serbia.
“The language barrier is very great as is the crime rate in the area surrounding the church,” Catrow said. “Our church is also only one block from the Sodomite Headquarters building in St. Louis. And they are very active.”
A member of the Missouri Baptist College faculty has been substituting for Catrow while he is on active duty. During the pastor’s absence, the church has continued to sponsor a Haitian and Vietnamese mission.
“When I return in mid-June, our church’s goal is to start five new language missions by the end of 2004 and 10 new missions next year,” Catrow said. “As we win the people who live around our church, they will tell others in their family about Christ. Some will return to their own countries and will carry the message of Christ with them.”
Catrow is convinced that Harmony Baptist, located near the intersection of Grand and Gravois, is not dead.
“God called me to the church in September 2002,” Catrow said. “He then called me to active duty four months later. When I get back to the church, I will not be bothered by the problems or challenges because with God all things are possible.”