Spiritual Life Director Lance Schrader to Join Air Force Chaplaincy

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

When he joined GCU in 2010, Lance Schrader worked in the Spiritual Life office on campus for just a few weeks before he left.

The mission that took Schrader away from his day job working with students involved traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border with his Arizona Air National Guard unit. He worked for nine months from a remote desert area, serving as a spiritual voice of reason for his fellow servicemen and servicewomen -- not to preach, but rather to guide them through spiritual challenges and provide comfort to those longing for peace.

Less than two years into his time at GCU, Schrader will once again answer the call to military service, this time to accept a full-time position as an Air Force chaplain. He resigned as director of the campus Spiritual Life office on Monday. He will await permanent duty station orders and continue to work on campus until Aug. 3.

The decision forces him to leave the Servant Scholars program that he was proud to have developed into one of GCU’s most promising student leadership opportunities.

“I believe in that program with every bit of my soul,” Schrader said about the Servant Scholars program, which will provide scholarships and other support to nearly 200 community-minded students this school year.

“Hundreds of people will apply for that job when I leave,” he said. “There are not that many people that will go to the military chaplaincy.”

Air Force chaplains provide spiritual counseling and guidance for enlisted men and women. They are considered the sole unbiased, confidential source of support for military personnel. While Schrader comes from an evangelical Christian tradition, he works with Muslim imams, Catholic priests and others of  varied religious backgrounds.

Chaplains also defend the constitutional right to freedom of religion, which in a deployed setting can be challenging  when an airman’s commander or colleagues might want to place limits on worshipping freely.

Serving God and country

Military chaplains are commissioned officers, like doctors or lawyers. Teams of chaplains are assigned to bases around the country, working on everything from crisis intervention and suicide prevention to funerals, baptisms and marriage counseling.

Schrader enlisted as a chaplain in the Arizona Air National Guard shortly after he and his wife, Karla, graduated together from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. They moved to Phoenix in 2007. He worked as a geometry teacher and director of spiritual life at Scottsdale Christian Academy before joining GCU.

The new assignment could take the Schraders anywhere from Luke Air Force Base in Glendale to any of the dozens of other bases in the United States or overseas, based on where there’s a need.

Schrader, 36, originally from Nebraska, is mostly mild-mannered and even-tempered. But his eyes take on a more serious look when he explains his devotion to Air Force chaplaincy.

As part of his early training, Schrader spent a couple of weeks at the hospital at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany and helped medics bringing in wounded troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It crystallized for him what he sensed as his calling to serve both God and country.

“Those two weeks changed my life,” Schrader said. “I was able to unload people from a plane who couldn’t walk, talk – who were barely alive. They were willing to put their lives on the line for our country.”

‘He’ll come out swinging’

Arizona Air National Guard Chaplain Eric Brown became friends with Schrader through their mutual work with the 161st Air Refueling Wing, which is based at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Brown said the unit was sad to learn their fellow chaplain was leaving, but understood his desire to serve on a base full time.

The difference between part-time and full-time chaplaincy is significant, Brown said. Unlike chaplains assigned full time to a base, Brown is able to work primarily with his congregants at Journey United Methodist Church in Maricopa.

“He’s a total organizer,” Brown said. “He loves getting people together over pizza and games. That’s Lance’s gift. He can do that in a more complete way when he’s doing it full time than what we can do when we’re part time.”

Brown added that Schrader has the inner fire that’s required of chaplains to defend religious freedom.   

“My experience with Lance is that he wants to stand up for what’s right, and he wants to help you stand up for what’s right,” Brown said. “He’s the kind of guy that if you back him into a corner about what’s right and wrong, he’ll come out swinging.”

Schrader said it is always difficult for companies and coworkers when an employee is asked to leave for an extended time because of Guard service.

But GCU has a commitment to supporting active military personnel. He was called to join the 161st Air Refueling Wing as part of the Southwest Border Initiative troop buildup along the Mexican border, a directive by President Obama and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In spite of the poor timing, GCU understood.  

More than 5,000 enlisted men and women are enrolled in courses through GCU, according to the University’s Military Division. The University also supports active-duty military employees with programs by helping to cover a gap in income when they're mobilized for active service.  

Community service continues

Earlier this year, Schrader and Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin settled on a theme for the campus spiritual and student life offices to follow. They hoped it would be adopted by the University as a whole:

“Community: One Spirit, One Purpose.”

The idea, Schrader said, was to develop a line that would resonate with everyone from students to staff as a reminder to remain humble and continue to serve the community in the midst of the most rapid growth in GCU’s history.

Griffin said that kind of selflessness and dedication would be missed with Schrader’s departure. In less than two years, Schrader helped link dozens of students into leadership programs such as Servant Scholars. That program and others have GCU students working in the field at drug rehabilitation facilities, homeless shelters and other areas in west Phoenix where there’s a great need for volunteerism.

“He came in, made quick connections with the staff and got everyone mobilized in a very short amount of time,” said Griffin, who promoted Schrader to Spiritual Life director in January.  “I told him yesterday, ‘That skill and ability will serve you well in the military.’ He’s just very good about capturing the moment.”

Griffin said the One Spirit, One Purpose theme would be introduced during Chapel services at the beginning of the fall semester.

Ryan McGuire, GCU’s online ministry coordinator, will assume the Servant Scholars program responsibilities in Schrader’s stead. Griffin will oversee the Spiritual Life office in the interim.

University staff are unlikely to fill the Spiritual Life director position until the spring, Griffin said, adding that he saluted Schrader’s dedication to serving the military as a spiritual guide.

“He’s on a pursuit that’s been a part of his heart and his plans for a very long time,” Griffin said. “I’m thrilled for him.”

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].


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