Rev. Dr. Kurt Taylor, associate professor of theology at CUW, retires as Air Force chaplain after more than 24 years of military service.

In honor of Memorial Day 2024, we’re recognizing our own Rev. Dr. Kurt Taylor, who recently retired after more than 24 years as an Air Force chaplain. Throughout his career, Taylor has tirelessly preached the Gospel to countless airmen, shining the light of Christ in what is often the darkest of hours. We can think of no more important duty regarding the many men and women in history who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our freedoms.

When God called him, Kurt Taylor answered. When his country called, he answered again.

The first call came in 1993, when he became a parish pastor in Calumet County, Wisconsin. Joining the military at that time wasn’t something he had thought much about. His father had served in the Navy, but it was long before he came along, he said. But then he felt “a pull from God.”

“We were surrounded by corn and cows in central Wisconsin,” he recalled. “My wife and I are both city people, and if we wanted to breathe city air, we’d go to Appleton. And to get there we had to drive past a building with a big, lit-up sign that said, ‘Armed Forces Recruiting Center.’ Every time we’d drive past it, I’d think about it some more.”

Ultimately, a friend who’d become an Army chaplain invited him to spend a weekend with him at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy. After seeing both how his friend served and how he lived, Taylor said he learned two things: “First thing was that I wanted to be a military chaplain. The second thing was I didn’t want to do it in the Army!”

So, after investigating the Navy and the Air Force, Taylor decided the latter would be the best fit for him.

“It was this crazy pull. And now, when students walk into my office here and, and they’re in some other major, and they don’t know quite how to enunciate it, other than ‘I think I should be going into church work’ … that’s when I usually start laughing and say, ‘Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about.’

“This is God at work, and recognizing God at work. You can’t explain it, and you can’t fight it.”

God had other plans

He joined the Air National Guard, as he and his wife, Christine, didn’t see full-time deployment as the best option for raising a family. But only two years later, September 11 happened, and it wasn’t long before was called up to serve in Kyrgyzstan, just north of Afghanistan, for six months. It was there that he had one of his most intense, and certainly most meaningful, duties: ministering to fighting men and women on their way to or from the heat of battle.

“I talked to numerous, numerous people,” he recalled. “I had two or three spiritual guidance appointments a day, every day, for six months. They were either scared to go in [to battle] or traumatized coming out. That was a real challenge; but it was also incredibly rewarding.”

Another challenge was just winning over the base commander, who didn’t like that a reservist had been appointed head chaplain. By the time Taylor went home, however, the colonel was so pleased with his service he gave him a challenge coin as a memento, which Taylor cherishes to this day.

Back in the United States, Taylor was stationed with the 110th Wing at Battle Creek (MI) Air National Guard Base (ANGB), making trips to Michigan about once a month from his “day job” as associate professor of theology and director of the DCM (Director of Christian Ministries) program at CUW. For the past five years, he has also been working with Selfridge ANGB outside Detroit, helping that base establish a chapel program there. The full-time chaplain had been deployed for six months, leaving them empty-handed for a time.

“So our wing commander said, ‘Kurt, I want you to build that program over there so that when he gets back, there will be a strong chapel program to return to.’” Taylor recalled. “And now, for the first time in the state of Michigan, instead of Battle Creek and Selfridge being completely separate, we have created Chapel Team Michigan. It’s something I’m very proud of.”

Introducing Jesus

One of the privileges of military chaplain service is ministering to people who often don’t necessarily have a relationship with Christ—or know precious little about Him.

“As a parish pastor, I’m used to being invited into people’s lives who are committed Christians,” Taylor said. “In the Air Force, it’s not always like that. And so I’m invited into intimate parts of people’s lives, when things can be falling apart.

“When you’re in a public setting, like a ceremony or something, you keep things pretty generic. But when you’re one-on-one with somebody … Boy, I let the cross fly! Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. And I know for a fact that some of the people I talked to about Jesus hadn’t really heard other than His name before. So to be able to bring Christ to people who didn’t know who He is was constantly a thrill.”

An unbeatable team

Another aspect of military service is that it’s always about the team. Taylor is quick to recognize those he serves alongside—including his civilian brethren here at Concordia.

“When I was brought on here, they knew full well I was already obligated to the Air Force, and never once did they question that obligation,” he said. “They have only supported it, and I’m very grateful.”

In the Air Force, he feels privileged to have served with so many outstanding people, particularly at the Battle Creek and Selfridge bases.

“Next to the six-month deployment, these past five years have been the pinnacle,” he said. “The people that work with me, our team, are just the highest quality people. I set the vision and they did the work, which is how it ought to go. I didn’t have to ask them to do anything; they all knew what to do and how to do it.

“I’ve also appreciated the relationships I’ve had with my commanders over the years,” he added. “For whatever reason, they always seemed to trust me, and would sometimes tell me things they wouldn’t tell anybody else. I’m very grateful for that privilege.”

As he so beautifully put it in his retirement speech: “When I joined, people asked me why did I join the military, and I gave the standard answers: to serve God and country. But then I would also answer there’s a selfish reason I joined, and that’s because I wanted to hang out with heroes. And as I look around this room, may I say, ‘mission accomplished.’

“To God be the glory.”

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