Mt. Vernon pastor takes on chaplain challenge
Lawrence County Record
After 18½ years as a member of the Missouri National Guard, Gary Gilmore is on active duty.
Gilmore also has left his post as pastor of Mt. Vernon First Baptist Church, where he served for 15 years—all for a one-year job that may or may not be renewed at the end.
But whatever the future holds, Gilmore said, he couldn’t pass up a chance to serve what he calls his SOUL-diers.
“The Lord opened up this opportunity … my heart is drawn to supporting the Guard and Reserve,” Gilmore said. “When I learned about it, I said, ‘That has my name written on it.’”
Gilmore has taken over duties as a garrison chaplain at Fort Leonard Wood, where his special task will be to support the Guards and Reservists called to active duty and on their way, for the most part, to the hot spots in the world.
“I raised my hand, and I did volunteer for this,” Gilmore said. “It’s that two-headed job I can do that no one else can.”
As though part of a great plan, Gilmore has been in training for his new post for the past 18 months, during which he has been state chaplain for the Missouri National Guard. In that post, Gilmore helped with programs to help strengthen marriages and families through counseling and connection with other resources.
Since 9/11, members of the Guard and Reserve have been under great stress because they have become an operational rather than a strategic reserve force. Many are being called to serve 12- to 18-month or more deployments to the Middle East, straining marriages and creating stress in families.
“The problems we’re facing now are just tremendous,” Gilmore said. “9/11 truly changed everything.”
As his position as state chaplain continued to grow into a full-time responsibility, Gilmore already was questioning the fairness of his involvement there to his local church.
“About January, I was doing some self-assessment and was just coming to the conclusion that I couldn’t do both,” he said. When the position opened up at Fort Leonard Wood, he felt it was an answer supplied by God.
“I just felt this is the time, this is the moment, this is the spot,” he said.
Leaving the church was one of the hardest parts of taking on his new responsibilities, Gilmore said.
“I’m a little possessive,” Gilmore said with a smile, admitting he will miss taking care of the flock in Mt. Vernon. “I’m guessing I’ve done about 150 funerals. I’ve enjoyed all the weddings, working with the children, watching people’s lives change.”
“I had 15½ great years at First Baptist Church, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
He won’t be leaving the community behind totally, however. Gilmore will live on post during the week, but his wife, Susan, will maintain their house here and continue to teach third grade. Their younger daughter, Amanda, will remain a student at Mt. Vernon High School.
“And when I’m free (from duties at the fort), I’ll roll back home and be around the folks I love,” Gilmore said. “Mt. Vernon is our home.”
During the week, Gilmore will devote his time to supporting the post and the 40,000-plus people who live and work there. His personal goal will be to help those he comes in contact with to develop spiritual fitness “because it takes a whole and healthy person to be a soldier.”
Along with his new job at Fort Wood come the stripes of a lieutenant colonel and a position as third-ranking of 25 chaplains on the post. But his accepting the chaplaincy has nothing to do with position or money or career, he said.
“It’s about people,” he said. “It’s about SOUL-diers. That’s why I’m a chaplain.”
Gilmore said he hopes at the end of his year’s service that the Army will opt to keep him on. If not, he might return to the Guard or seek another church. While on duty at Fort Wood, he hopes to work on and complete work for a doctorate in ministry.
Until then, Gilmore will dedicate his life and time to providing what he considers a small contribution to his country and the people who defend it.
“I will never be a fighter or a commander,” he said. “I have a limited role. There are many men and women, sons and daughters, ordinary citizens who have gone and done so much more than I have, but I am honored and proud to go and support those who serve.
“I want to salute them. It’s all about them.” (This story was reprinted with the permission of the Lawrence County Record.)