Salute the Admiral

Me, Pastor Kuhn, and my wife, Tammy

Please believe me when I say that this is not going to be a “death” blog. I’m not going to keep posting about those in my life who have entered the next life.  However, it would be wrong for me to miss putting up a post about one of the greatest influences of my life, who died last Friday:

The way the education of a pastor in the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod works is to get a B.A. degree, and then move on to seminary for four years. The first two years are spent on campus, in class.  The third year is a “real world” internship as “vicar” serving with an established pastor at a congregation somewhere in the United States.  Then the student goes back to the seminary for one final year of class work before graduating and becoming a “full-fledged” pastor.

My vicarage was done near our nation’s capitol in Falls Church, Virginia, under The Rev. Gerald Kuhn, who had been the pastor of that congregation from about the time it was approximately a year old. Pastor Kuhn had risen to the rank of Rear Admiral as a Navy Chaplain.  He was the best you could ask for in a vicarage supervisor:  laid back; ready to allow you to “test your wings”; providing plenty of freedom; and making sure you learned and had fun for a year in our nation’s capitol.

Pastor Kuhn died last Friday. He was a great man of God, a unique character, and a precious friend.  I got to see him last fall, and I am so glad that I did.  With this post, I “salute” the Admiral for the things he taught me.

  • Stay for a while.  Pastor Kuhn was the Pastor at St. Paul’s in Falls Church, Virginia, for well over thirty years.  He retired from there.  He proved that a long ministry bears much fruit, builds better relationships, and accomplishes much more than a short ministry ever could.
  • Advocate for the community.  St. Paul’s had an “education building” that was originally intended to be for a day school that never panned out.  So Pastor Kuhn decided that it ought to be open to anyone and everyone in the community who had a need for space.  There were AA groups, AlAnon groups, TOPS groups, Exercise groups, Bible Study Groups, and groups that simply needed the space for a meeting or community dinner.  That attitude provided a great connection between the church and the community for many years.
  • Lead by example.  One day I walked into the church and Pastor Kuhn was vacuuming the entryway of the church.  We had a very good janitor at the time, but with Pastork Kuhn everything had to be “ship shape” (pardon the pun).  No job was below him.  He did what needed to be done, and he never complained that “it wasn’t his job.”
  • Understand you’re part of something bigger.  Pastor Kuhn insisted that everyone who became a member of the church should automatically receive the monthly official publication of our church, directly in the mail.  He told me that no matter what organization you join you receive the official publication.  How much more in the church. Today, every member of my congregation automatically receives that same publication.
  • Take the long view.  In the one year I spent with him, there were ups and downs as only there can be in a local church.  But I never saw Pastor Kuhn lose his cool…even when a member went into his office and yelled and screamed for a half an hour.  There may be minor crises from one day to the next, but in the long run it’s all part of ministry, and it all has a purpose.  I learned from him to “take the long view” and “keep my cool” when the chips seem down.
  • English is important.  Every week I had to submit my sermon to Pastor Kuhn so that he could “approve” it.  He usually had no problem with the theology of the sermon.  If he had any problem it was with grammar or English usage.  He felt that getting your point across could be done most effectively if you used proper English.

One more thing: while I was there that year, Pastor Kuhn made me take a “quiz” on the history of Virginia, and he gave me some Confederate money that I still have to this day.  He made sure that every vicar who went through St. Paul’s in Falls Church, Virginia, would learn something about the place in which they served.  It was a lot of fun…and I did pretty well on the quiz.  But I learned more than Virginia history.  I learned what it meant to be a great pastor.

Pastor Kuhn will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on July 21st.  Salute the Admiral!

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3 thoughts on “Salute the Admiral

  1. Tom – I was blessed to get to know him when he preached and filled-in, after your Vicarage, at Bethany Lutheran Church in Alexandria (where I was on Vicarage). Thanks for sharing your "gleanings" from Pastor Kuhn's life and ministry. Your observations are really helpful and, if you knew the guy, a fitting tribute. Thanks!

  2. I served with Chaplain Kuhn in Korea in 1952/53 when he was with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st MarDiv. I was a Navy Hospital Corpsman working in the Battalion Aid Station. When we had casualties Chaplain Kuhn was always there offering aid and comfort to the wounded. He was well thought of and appreciated by many Marines.

    Although I am not a religious person, Chaplain Kuhn made a great impression on me. He was one of the pleasant memories I have of Korea.

    I next saw him about forty years later at a battalion reunion and at several other reunions until his health prevented him from attending. He was one of the nicest individuals I have ever met–kind, considerate and always thinking of others no matter their background. I know he will be fondly remembered and missed by his fellow 2nd Battalion Marines and sailors.

    Semper Fi, Chaplain Kuhn