Chaplain earns top Air Guard honor


By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

John McCay III has had his hands full the past couple of years.

As a military chaplain and a full-time pastor, he’s dealt with a hurricane and troops heading off to war, returning from war and other unique aspects of military life.

McCay juggles the two demanding jobs pretty well. In July he was recognized as the Air National Guard 2006 Chaplain of the Year. The award was presented at the Air National Guard Chaplains Conference in Landsdowne, Va., by Chaplain, Brig. Gen. John Ellington, chief of the National Guard Chaplain Service, and Chaplain, Col. William Charbonneau, chief of the Air National Guard Chaplain Service.  

McCay is a captain in the Air National Guard attached to 172 Air Wing headquartered in Jackson. However, he primarily serves at the Lott National Guard Training Complex in Gulfport. He also is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Picayune.  

The Air National Guard has 600 chaplains nationwide. 

McCay said he was cited for his service following Hurricane Katrina. He was called to active duty on Sept. 9, 2005, and served a month, but continued extra duty for two more months following the storm. 

“We had at one time 5,000 troops at the Guard base in Gulfport,” McCay said. “I was the installation chaplain. We went to a full-fledged chapel program seven days a week and Bible study with all different types of worship services. We even had other sites off base because we had military medical units off-base and conducted services for them.  

“Our ministry of presence was important. We were dealing with stress management as first responders were going in and doing their work. We were there for them if they needed to talk with some of things they saw. 

“A lot of host-unit personnel lost homes or had major damage. We had to help folks through the early times. Many weren’t able to see their own losses for weeks.” 

McCay wasn’t immune. His parents lived near the gulf and lost everything. He also had parishioners back in Picayune whose homes sustained damage. However, he said, his church and district leaders knew his work with the Guard was important. 

“It was the most rewarding ministry I’ve ever had as a chaplain. I was doing ministry in a real world setting and being with people in their time of need,” he said. “You just don’t get that on a weekend. I was going through a real-life situation with them, going through so much stress. It was so rewarding to be there with them.” 

His duties as an Air National Guard chaplain require him to minister to soldiers of different faiths — and chaplains of different faiths. He said the experience makes him a better pastor in Picayune. 

“I believe it makes me more well-rounded as an individual to interact with people on all levels,” he said. “Me interacting with other denominations helps me better interact with people coming into our church from other denominations.  

“It is a privilege to serve God and country, too. The United Methodist Church allows chaplains to do both. My ministry to the church is just as important as my ministry to troops. The United Methodist Church is supportive of that.” 

McCay, who serves one weekend a month, said he sometimes helps troops heading to or coming back from overseas duty. 

“I’ve dealt with troops going on shorter deployments,” he said. “They call up people who do certain jobs; there may only be two or three who do it. I minister to them before they leave and then as they re-integrate. 

“There is the anxiety of getting ready to leave. Some are being deployed for the first time overseas. Most are not in hostile areas. We help them deal with deaths or illnesses that come up with loved ones here. The issues aren’t as widespread as missing a whole year of their lives here.”