The air is crisp and the darkness of night still lingers, Chief Religious Programs Specialist Stanley Ponder, the Leading Chief Petty Officer of the Training department onboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68), wakes from his sleep and begins the same daily schedule he has repeated for years. At 4 a.m., Ponder, a man heavily involved in his church, begins with prayer and meditation before doing anything else.
As a church elder and a chief, Ponder dedicates himself to improving his mind, body and soul, so that he and those around him can reach new heights of excellence.
Ponder doesn’t see himself as anything other than another link in the anchor chain. To keep himself as approachable as possible, he doesn’t speak to Sailors as a chief, but as a fellow Sailor and brother in arms.
As a Religious Programs Specialist, Sailors come to Ponder at times to see a chaplain but in some instances they simply come to him for guidance.
“I’m not a Sailor who happens to be Christian,” said Ponder. “I’m a Christian who happens to be a Sailor.”
Ponder thinks this philosophy helps him remain relatable and approachable to Sailors of every pay grade. The foundation upon which his principals are built rests firmly upon the daily routine Ponder has developed for himself over the years.
“I need to be in prayer and meditation daily so that my heart and mind are on par with what I need to be doing” said Ponder.
Ponder likened his daily routine to the sharpening of an axe. He went on to explain that a sharp axe results in more wood chopped than a dull one.
His mind, Ponder said, is similar. The more he grows and develops, the more Sailors and church members he is able to positively affect.
Over time, Ponder earned associate degrees in liberal arts and religious science, a bachelor’s degree in Christian education and a master’s degree in theology. He uses the knowledge learned from earning those degrees to guide Sailors and the congregation of his church down a brighter path.
He hasn’t stop learning since earning his degrees. Ponder continues to build on his level of knowledge by setting aside time every day to study some sort of educational material.
Ponder also works to keep up with the younger crowds that he deals with at church and at work.
“I need to know what my congregation, the Millennials and the world are experiencing at that moment;” said Ponder. “The term is ‘keeping your ear to the street;’ you have to understand what’s going on around you and be able to regurgitate that information in such a way that people can understand what you are trying to convey to them.”
The younger generation is far more electronically inclined than ever before, so they want information that can be quickly digested.
“Working with the youth takes the most dedication,” said Ponder. “Whatever they are thinking, I must be patient. If that thought process is adverse to a positive lifestyle, I need to be patient enough to turn their thinking to a positive light.”
Ponder described the level of balance and poise he needed to demonstrate in order to help some individuals.
“If I push too hard, I push them away,” he said. “If I don’t push enough, then I won’t give them what they need.”
At times he comes across situations where he finds himself helping people whom others might scorn.
“Are we to turn away somebody who comes to us for help simply because he or she has done wrong,” asked Ponder. “The church is a hospital of faith and if someone has an injured soul, we will try to heal it.”
This is a belief Ponder has adopted and adapted to fit his life in the Navy as well. He sees his Sailors no differently than his congregation.
“I know Sailors who have cheated on their spouses, I know Sailors who have done malicious things,” Ponder said. “But, am I to take this person who has gone to mast three times and turn them away at the time they come to me for help?”
Ponder said he strives to treat all people with the same level of dignity, despite what they may have done in the past.
Each week, Ponder and the other members of the executive pastoral team at his church come up with a game plan on how to minister to the people they encounter. All the while, he is taking things away from those discussions that are useful to his everyday life and to the lives of his Sailors, such as not judging people, being relatable and understanding the younger generation.
Ponder’s day winds down as the darkness finds its place in the sky once again and the warmth of his home replaces the fading sun. The sound of the video game Ponder and his wife play buzzes in their room as his daily routine comes to a close. The lights flick out, completing the last step of the process that waits to be started again when the light of a new day is just beyond the horizon.
Story and photos by MCSN Colby Comery