Extension Ministry: Michael Potesta, Military Chaplain

By Barry Steiner Ball

Rev. Michael Potesta serves in extension ministry as an active-duty military chaplain in the United States Navy, currently assigned to the United States Marines.  He is, in short, a pastor to hundreds of young men and women who serve to protect our county. 

Chaplain Michael Potesta

To become a sailor or marine, the process is fairly simple to understand.  A young person goes to a recruiter’s office, begins filling out paperwork, and finally the day comes to be sworn in as a member of the U. S. Military. Then off to boot camp one goes.  For Chaplain Potesta, becoming a Navy Chaplain was anything but simple.

Michael was raised in a family that, much of the time, was not healthy or stable.  Because of this, he spent time in West Virginia, Florida, and Michigan growing up.  Because of the constant moving, he attended 12 schools before graduating from high school.  Michael credits both sets of his grandparents, whom he lived with at different times as a child, with providing him with his strong faith and the firm knowledge that Jesus would not abandon him. 

After graduation, Michael had no idea what he was to do with his life, besides clinging to the faith of Jesus’ constant presence.  He did have a desire to continue his education, but lack of money was a roadblock to this dream.  Michael served a stint in the Army, where the calling for military chaplaincy started, then worked in modeling and at The Home Depot, only to just survive and not get ahead.  One night, Michael would come home from work to find his step-father dead in the backyard.  This, along with a lot of factors, would cause him to move back to West Virginia, where, after a short stint at The Home Depot, he would start attending college at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

After a year and a half at SCAD, Michael could no longer afford the tuition.  The blessing of a scholarship to West Virginia Wesleyan College not only allowed him to continue his education, but Michael was also able to develop a relationship with Rev. Angela Gay Kinkead, whom he trusted with his military chaplaincy call.  With God’s call becoming ever stronger on his life, Michael stepped out in faith even further by taking more student loans to pay for a seminary degree from Wesley Theological Seminary.  He still had the dream to be a military chaplain, specifically an Army Chaplain. 

As with all walks of faith, there are mountaintop experiences and valleys.  Michael walked into a valley; after two and half years of trying to become a US Army Chaplain, he let the call go.  Angry, hurt, and scared (remember, he had student loans), Michael found himself in the refectory one day, because his usual Friday afternoon class had been unexpectedly cancelled.  There Michael saw and met with a Navy Chaplain Recruiter.  Jesus had not abandoned Michael. 

Chaplain Potesta was ordained summer, 2020

Before becoming a military chaplain, one must be ordained and then endorsed by one’s denomination.  For Michael, this meant working within the West Virginia Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry for ordination and at the same time with the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, along with the Navy for acceptance into their chaplaincy program.  Three bureaucracies at once.  For his first appointment, Michael had been accepted into the Clinic Pastoral Education (CPE) Residency at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, WV.  When the CPE program ended, ordination was just over the horizon, and endorsement had been received, but the Navy was not on the same time schedule. Michael was then appointed to the Raleigh Shared Ministries Charge while the Navy and the United Methodist Church got into step with each other. Then a pandemic hit!  Sometimes it is hard to believe that Jesus has not abandoned us, but faith kept Michael moving.

The Navy finally got on board and commissioned Michael as a Lieutenant Junior Grade Chaplain and let him know his first full time assignment would be to a chapel in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Just before packing his belongs up for the move to Hawaii, the Navy changed their mind and advised Ch. Potesta that he was now going to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to be a chaplain for the Marines. Not what Ch. Potesta hand in mind, but God calls us where God calls us. 

Ch. Potesta is currently assigned as a battalion chaplain, which means the great majority of his troops are 18 to 21 years old (he’s the third oldest person in the battalion at the age of 40). Michael has found the stress of being a Marine, often newly married, the stressors of COVID, and never knowing when a deployment will happen leaves many Marines and their family members considering suicide, acting out with domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and illegal drug use, just to name a few.  Nevertheless, Ch. Potesta also believes that rank and age do not protect one from life, and that men and women of all ranks and ages struggle with the stress of military life.  Counselling and crisis intervention are a large part of Ch. Potesta’s ministry.

How we can pray for Ch. Michael Potesta:

First pray for Ch. Potesta’s physical prowess as he heads to The Advanced Marine Corps Water Survival Training (Michaels know that Jesus will not abandon him, however he also knows he is not 21 years old anymore!).   Second, pray for the Marines and their families in Ch. Potesta’s care.  Help them to avoid any thoughts of suicide and the temporary escape of substance abuse.  Help them to come to know and trust that they were created in God’s image and will always be God’s child.

Ch. Potesta is sitting second from the left!