Chaplain Rich Blanchette, First Lieutenant- United States Air Force

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                              July 2, 2017

           

I remember when they appeared at my church. Actually, it was the second time they were there. I had been on vacation the first Sunday they showed up, but heard about the young family with two kids who had visited. (It always seemed to happen that way! When I went on vacation visitors would show up. It made my congregation want me to take more vacations, or at least stay away!)

Rich and Casey Blanchette had moved to Colorado Springs from Highland, Illinois. He was beginning a new assignment at the Air Force Academy. Their two munchkins, Hailey and Richie, were about 7 and 2 years old.

Rich and I connected! He understood my humor. We laughed together a lot. They got involved in various ways at church. Casey was enthusiastic and full of energy, like a balloon you let go of and the air releases from as the balloon flies all over the place. Rich was a part of a small group I began of young guys.

And then Rich felt called to the ministry! He had to make a decision. Re-enlist for another four years, or exit the Air Force after 13 years and head to the uncertainty of seminary. He followed the calling. Although his G.I. Bill paid for tuition, the family endured tight financial times as they absorbed educational costs like books and travel expense from Colorado Springs to Denver three to four times a week, plus the loss of income. Entering a three-year seminary program as a 32 year old married father of two is a serious life re-routing, but he did it.

During seminary our church helped him cover educational costs, brought him on staff with the title “Seminary Student Pastor”, and paid him a small stipend. However, the big plus was that it allowed me to mentor him, come alongside him, and get to know his heart for people. Seminary was hard for Rich, more because the demands of study limited his family time. There was always a bit of guilt about writing a paper for a class instead of hanging out with his kids. He struggled to find that balance. I remember both he and his wife sharing their frustrations as they tried to figure out a family rhythm. In the Air Force he had been deployed for six months to Afghanistan and knew the heartache of being away form his family. During his seminary days he would be in the basement of the house studying, just one level below his wife and kids, and still feel that heartache.

But he made it! After our church ordained him, he worked at the Springs Rescue Mission while he looked for pastoral placement. And then First Baptist Church of Goodland, Kansas called him. He interviewed with their search committee, and sent them a couple of sermon tapes. Pretty soon he was being presented as the candidate to be their next pastor…and they loved him, and Casey, and the kids.

Our church said goodbye to him, and they moved three hours away to their new church. I remember in those first few months of ministry he would call me from time to time to ask me questions. “Pastor Bill, what would you do…” “Pastor Bill, how did you go about…”

“Pastor Bill” was, and still is, my name to him even though we are both ordained clergy. In Rich’s mind it has always been a indication of his respect for me, but it also says something to the value that he places on people.

Almost three and a half years later his ministry, a ministry of depth and growth, at Goodland came to an end. Since the last Sunday in June was his final Sunday, the church is just in the beginning stages of grieving the loss of their beloved pastor, but most of them hold Pastor Rich in high regard and will love him always.

Why? Because he felt God tugging on his life’s guide ropes, leading him into a different direction that the Almighty had used the previous twenty years to prepare him for. He is now Chaplain Rich Blanchette, First Lieutenant, United States Air Force, on his way to his first assignment at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

I get somewhat emotional thinking about him. I remember the first sermon he delivered at our church and he took his shoes off before he spoke because he said this was holy ground he was speaking on. I remember taking notes on his messages and doing post-sermon critiquing with him the next week. “Rich, you had great content, but don’t try to feed them the whole haystack all at once!” “Rich, if you can’t illustrate a point with a real-life situation don’t use it!” “Rich, that was your best message yet, and your delivery has improved so much.” I remember traveling over to Goodland one Sunday with Carol and our friends, Ed and Diana Stucky. What an awesome time we had worshiping with the congregation and listening to their pastor preach. As he spoke my eyes got moist because of the symphony that God has orchestrated from his life.

The Blanchette’s stayed with us this past weekend as they began their journey to California. What a great time together! What a delight to be able to laugh so much together about things we had experienced and times shared together.

I have been blessed by him and his family, and in admiration of who he is and who he has become I think I’m going to start calling him “Chaplain Rich!”

Explore posts in the same categories: Bible, children, Christianity, Faith, Freedom, Humor, Jesus, love, Nation, Parenting, Pastor, Prayer, Story, The Church, Uncategorized, Youth

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