Labors of love: Chaplain in training serves church, Guard members, children in need


The Rev. Ben L. Black (right), vicar at St. James Lutheran Church, distributes Communion during his ordination service on Jan. 28.

Photo provided

GREENFIELD — Someone had stolen the radio from the Jeep Wrangler.

Ben Black’s commute was now quieter, more likely to be spent in prayer and meditation.

“It was one of those mornings,” he said, “God was able to get my attention enough that I acknowledged that he was calling me into ministry.”

These days, unlike that commute, not much is quiet in Black’s life. In addition to family and work responsibilities, he’s completing a master’s degree in military chaplaincy and serving as vicar at St. James Lutheran Church.

Each week, he attends to the different types of work that mark this season of his life. He’s a full-time family case manager in the Indiana Department of Child Services’ Hancock County office. He participates in services and other events at St. James; some Sundays he fills in at one of several other Lutheran churches.

Then there are monthly drill weekends with the Indiana National Guard, during which he shadows another chaplain — “to see how they do things, how they interact with other people, how they balance being an army officer and a chaplain,” Black said.

Black grew up in Ohio and later moved to Indiana, started at Purdue University and joined the National Guard. He was an infantry soldier for five years — including an eight-month deployment to Iraq in 2008 — then a combat engineer for 11.

By 2020, after a St. James pastor’s retirement, an interim pastor from the North American Lutheran Church and a rotation of speakers were taking turns leading services in Greenfield. Black was invited to be one of those “pulpit supply” speakers. That’s how he met the congregation.

“St. James has a very friendly and welcoming congregation,” he said. “Even with my military service, they’re very supportive and understanding.”

Parishioner Phil Miller remembers when Black first began leading services locally.

“He was just starting to learn to do this,” Miller said. “He kind of grew on us … He has grown tremendously as far as standing in front of a group of people, presentations, what can be done, what needs to be done ….”

Through pastor conferences, Black met the Rev. Dr. Richard Blue Jr. When Blue was later considering the call to St. James, he asked Black about living in Indiana and the St. James congregation.

“We had some really great conversations,” Blue said, “and he encouraged me to take the call as well.” Blue became senior pastor here in July 2022.

Later, Black needed to serve a vicarship, a pastoral internship, for his studies. He and Black obtained approval needed for Black to serve as vicar at St. James.

“Typically, vicars are not ordained pastors,” Blue said. “Ben is already ordained” and therefore able to do more.

Blue said it’s been “a real blessing” to not only have Black and a new perspective but also to see how much Black has done in pastoral care.

Black frequently offers a listening presence at a post-traumatic stress disorder group that meets at the church. He also leads a monthly service of prayer and anointing for people facing health issues and/or chronic conditions.

“That’s been beautiful to see some of this,” Blue said. “We’re there to help surround the person … help the person get to a place of peace.”

Miller said as he’s navigated health problems, these times have been a significant support to him.

“It means a lot … He is the only person that I talk to about this unabashedly,” Miller said. “He and I sit there and pray and talk about stuff.”

Black’s time as vicar will likely last till December, when several possible paths will lie before him.

“I’m hoping to stay in Indiana and provide for people’s religious needs,” he said, “on both the civilian and the military side.”

Blue said he’s confident in Black’s abilities to go and seek a full-time call but wants him to take time and discern his next calling. He said the St. James congregation loves Black and will miss him if/when he goes to minister elsewhere.

He said what stands out about Black is “endurance, to just keep going even when it feel like there is no path forward … (and) the amount of dedication to do everything that he is doing.

“He’s got a big smile on his face, and he’s ready to start serving Jesus when he shows up.”