By Jeremy P. Amick
CENTERTOWN – “Although I was raised in a Christian home, I sort of lost my way during my college years and tossed aside my religion.” And so begins the story of a of a circuitous journey that led Pastor David Phelps from his boyhood home in Cincinnati, Ohio, to ministerial work at Lincoln University and Centertown Baptist Church—all by way of his military service in Germany.
Growing up in Cincinnati during the middle of the Vietnam War, David Phelps knew that military service would likely become inevitable. With this understanding, he chose to enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program while attending college at Eastern Kentucky University.
“I figured if I could join the Army as an officer, I would at least get paid a little more and maybe be able to decide where I would go,” quipped the veteran.
Following his graduation with a bachelor of science in chemistry, Phelps received his commission as an officer in December 1970 and was sent to Ft. Benning, Ga., to complete Infantry Officer Basic School. Following completion of this initial training, he remained at Ft. Benning in order to complete the U.S. Army Airborne School and was able to acquire his “jump wings” following the completion of five jumps from an airplane.
Fortunately for the budding young lieutenant, Army officers were granted—at that time—the opportunity to select their first duty location, and Phelps decided upon Germany. This was an exciting opportunity for the new officer as foreign languages had always been a point of interest to him. In regard to his new assignment, the former officer stated: “I wanted to immerse myself in my new culture. As an officer I was allowed to live off post so I stayed on a farm with a German family the entire time I was there.”
He was eventually assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Division in Schaffenberg, Germany and served as an infantry platoon leader—a role which he held for approximately a year. He was then transferred to the chemical corps in Kitzingen, where he served as a Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) officer and an assistant adjutant under the battalion headquarters.
While serving in this exciting and new foreign country, Phelps was befriended by a group of Christian officers who helped to solidify a commitment to his previously-displaced faith.
“I began to read the Bible seriously,” he said, “and started to help out with various Christian ministries on the post.”
The soldier and his recent military acquaintances began to set up “coffee shops” on the post which provided for a comfortable location where fellow servicemembers could relax and pray. Through the fellowship and interaction that took place at these coffee shops, Phelps indicated that they were able to assist others with issues such as being able to “… help several soldiers turn their lives around by getting off of drugs and alcohol through a Christian commitment.”
Phelps also began attending one of the numerous churches being operated by the Southern Baptist Convention. During one of these services the regular pastor was absent and Phelps was asked to lead the service. The congregation was so impressed with his ministerial abilities that the young Army officer was then asked to fill in as the interim preacher for the church.
“It became somewhat hectic to serve as an Army officer during the week and a preacher on the weekends,” he said, “ but I was thankful that the Lord took a hold of me.”
Just three and a half years into his initial four-year commitment, Phelps was granted an early discharge in April of 1974 due to an Army initiative to reduce what was perceived as an excess of officers as the Vietnam War was drawing to a close. He decided to remain in Germany in order to continue his ministry and work with various Christian youth programs. However, he eventually made the decision to return to the states and in February 1976 enrolled in a seminary program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
He received his Master of Divinity degree in 1979 and served in several ministerial capacities before arriving in Jefferson City in 1990, where he served as the associate pastor for the First Baptist Church. The former Army officer’s ministerial journey has most recently led him to the Centertown Baptist Church where he has served as their pastor during the last three years.
Nonetheless, Pastor Phelps spends the greatest part of his time serving as the Baptist Campus Director at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. In this capacity, he helps to oversee the operation of the Student Center which serves as part of a student outreach initiative under the sponsorship of the Concord Baptist Association. Part of Phelps’ responsibilities in this position include reaching out and ministering to the students and providing informal counseling on a broad range of issues—which can oftentimes vary from advice on maintaining healthy relationships to dealing with financial difficulties. The Student Center also hosts several recreational events which are designed to encourage fellowship among the student population.
Phelps remains dedicated to supporting veterans and servicemembers and is currently a member of the American Legion Post 531in Centertown.
“I was proud to do my duty for my country,” he said. “I continue to pray regularly for those who continue to serve and have a deep respect for those who were placed in greater danger than I ever was.” (Reprinted with permission by Jeremy P. Amick.)