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A Space, a Place, and a Face for Veterans

Chaplain John Morris S’86, a retired Colonel and 2014 Bethel Seminary Alumnus of the Year, returns to Bethel to lead the new Office of Military and Veteran Services.

By Michelle Westlund '83, senior content specialist

July 09, 2019 | Noon

Chaplain John Morris

Chaplain John Morris S’86 helps Bethel provide “a space, a place, and a face” for returning military veterans.

Chaplain John Morris is not on time for our scheduled interview. He’s early. Morris, a retired Colonel, is Bethel’s new executive director of military and veteran services, and he’s bringing characteristic discipline, passion, and vision to the newly created Office of Military and Veteran Services. A 1986 Bethel Seminary graduate who was named the seminary’s alumnus of the year in 2014, he arrived on campus this summer much the same way he arrived at our interview—prepared, engaged, and ready to get to work.

Morris brings impeccable credentials to his new role. A former pastor of several congregations, he also served three tours of duty as a chaplain in the Middle East. He recruited and trained chaplains as Staff Chaplain of the Army National Guard, and he created Minnesota’s “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” program, an initiative that helps soldiers re-integrate into civilian life. In 2008, Congress mandated the program to be the national standard for all returning Guard and Reserve soldiers and their families.

Most recently, Morris served at the Pentagon as an Actions Officer for the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains. There, a year before retirement, he says he experienced a “call to continue to serve,” and began to pray about his next arena of service. He found his thoughts returning to Bethel, where his seminary education was “transformative,” he explains. His work had already included time spent helping veterans find resources and get back into school, and he realized his heart for, in his words, “creating a space, a place, and a face” for returning vets.

At the same time, unknown to Morris, Bethel was developing a plan to intentionally recruit and serve students connected to the military—those in active military service, veterans, and military/veteran dependents. When Morris contacted Bethel about available positions, it was clear that God had already been at work. The position and the person were a perfect match.

In his new role, Morris “will serve as the champion for Bethel students who are connected to the military, and will also work with admissions to develop recruitment plans for active military and veteran students and their families,” says John Addleman, special assistant to the president. Morris calls this group “military-affiliated students,” and he is convinced that Bethel is able to meet their needs in a unique way.

“Bethel is a military-friendly campus,” says Morris. “Bethel’s programs have strong interest for military-affiliated students, who have a heart for service. The world-class nursing program, the physician assistant degree, and the diverse seminary offerings are just a few of the many programs that might draw them. Bethel’s administration, financial aid, registrar’s office, and student services not only talk about services to vets, but they’re doing it. And Bethel understands mission, which appeals to mission-driven students like veterans.”

“Bethel is a military-friendly campus. Bethel’s programs have strong interest for military-affiliated students, who have a heart for service.”

— Chaplain John Morris S’86

Mission is where Morris begins. His goal is for Bethel to double the size of its military-affiliated student population by the 2021-2022 academic year. He’ll lead the Office of Military and Veteran Services in synchronizing all Bethel’s resources to ensure a veteran-friendly campus, including admissions, academic support, financial aid, veteran benefits, healthcare, spiritual formation, and career/vocational services. “From their first inquiry to their first job, we are these students’ biggest supporter,” he says.

Morris also plans to increase awareness and support for military-affiliated students within the Bethel community, while implementing strong recruiting initiatives and connecting with alumni and donors. He hopes to establish a student-led “Student Veterans of America” chapter at Bethel, as well as help the university become a VA-certified “Veteran Friendly” campus and receive “Military-Friendly School” certification.

His transformative Bethel Seminary experience, says Morris, “grounded me in faith and provided me with solid academic preparation. That quality and rigor resonates with military-affiliated students and is what I want to offer them.” His goal is that these well-prepared, mission-driven students will graduate to become “champions for Bethel University and transformative leaders in the marketplace,” he says.

Morris points out that Bethel has had a longstanding commitment to serving those who have served our nation. “Bethel should be proud,” he says. “There is a long history of military members attending here. Bethel has quietly sought to serve the nation by training leaders of faith.” With the addition of Morris and the Office of Military and Veteran Services, that commitment continues, stronger than ever.

Military Benefits at Bethel University 

Bethel offers resources and support for military veterans and families. Military benefits, grants, and scholarships make a Bethel degree a logical and accessible option for vets. Contact the Office of Military and Veteran Services at 651.635.2422. 

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