COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
I was eight years old when I began working with my father in chapel ministry. I was his sidekick, and I loved it. As I grew older I progressed to helping with children’s church, teen ministry, young adult ministry, and playing with the younger children while Dad led adult Bible studies in our home every Friday night.
My dad‘s love for God and for Airmen was contagious. Whether leading worship services on Sunday morning, visiting base units, teaching young adult Bible studies, or greeting Security Forces at the front gate, there was always a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face, and a bounce in his step. I loved hanging out with him, especially as he connected with Airmen. Dad set aside special sections in the chapel for the young enlisted, and all the airmen knew that they had to be at the chapel 15-30 minutes early just to get a seat when Dad was preaching.
My most special memory is the summer following my freshman year of college. Dad was a lieutenant colonel at that point. Although I went to college in Missouri, we were stationed at McChord Air Force Base, Washington I was 18, the same age as the youngest Airmen. I made friends with them as a peer, and I began to see chaplain ministry through their eyes. Each week I gathered with 175 single Airmen in the chapel annex for my dad’s young adult Bible Study. I felt especially honored when Dad asked me to help mentor the brand-new chaplain candidate (who is now a Col.), and when he asked me to take over as the teacher of the junior high Sunday school class.
When I returned to college that fall to continue my studies in mathematics, something just didn’t feel right. Even though I was good at math, I couldn’t picture myself as a mathematician. I ended up doing something radical: I took my Bible and my guitar into the national forest, I fell on my knees, and I vowed that I would not leave the woods until I knew God’s will for my life.
When I left the forest after a couple days, I called dad and told him I was going to follow in his footsteps and become an Air Force chaplain. Dad was thrilled. Nevertheless, he spent the next hour trying to talk me out of it. He wanted to make sure I was following God rather than merely following him. After seminary and a few years as a civilian pastor, my first Air Force assignment was Eglin AFB, Florida. Dad and I then became the first and only active duty father and son chaplains in the history of the Air Force.
A few years later, when Dad was nominated for promotion to brigadier general, I was the first person he called. He didn’t call to brag, in fact, he wouldn’t even let me congratulate him. He called for my sake. He knew that his promotion to general officer would affect my chaplain career.
“Steve, I’ll be glad to turn the promotion down and retire if it would be better for your ministry. You’re the Air Force’s Chaplain Richardson now. I don’t want anything to detract from the ministry God has given you.” He said.
I asked him to accept the promotion and stay in the Air Force. So for the next eight years he served as Deputy, then Chief of Air Force Chaplains. He retired in 2012 as a major general.
We’ve come full circle. I’m now Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel Richardson. My oldest son is 18. He plays bass guitar for our chapel services, helps with the teen ministry, and watches the children while I lead marriage tune-up events. He’ll be heading to college in a few months, and, just as I did all those years ago, he’s wondering what God has in store for his life.
As for my father, I invited him this past week to visit Columbus AFB. We led six National Prayer events for different squadrons throughout the base. We cared for, prayed for, and met one-on-one with over 300 Airmen. He also helped me encourage 60 attendees at our first-ever Marriage Monday dinner. What a blessing it was to stand side-by-side once again with my Dad as we honored and served the men and women of the United States Air Force.