Terry Rommereim ’78, M.Div. ’86, makes his rounds on a Friday morning at the VA hospital in Fresno.
By Kevin Matthews
Some 70 years since having his B-17 shot down over Nuremberg and spending seven or eight months as a prisoner of war, Thomas Richardson, 96, decided he wanted to be baptized. Family members came in to the Fresno VA’s long-term care facility in December for a brief ceremony presided over by lead chaplain Terry Rommereim ’78, M.Div. ’86.
Rommereim doesn’t perform as many baptisms as he once did. After studying at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, which is now part of Cal Lutheran, and earning a Doctor of Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, he was an associate or solo pastor for many years in Los Angeles and Orange County and later a senior pastor in Fresno. Although he thought he’d always be a parish pastor, “God had other plans for me,” he said.
As full-time chaplain since 2010, he has a range of duties with the Department of Veterans Affairs – including a grief support group, a palliative care team and worship services – but spends most of his time now on “sheer ministry” rather than administrative tasks. He works with veterans who served in every decade since World War II on issues of chemical dependency, post-traumatic stress disorder, injuries to body and brain, and the moral injuries suffered by those who face death, fighting, killing and the guilt of survival.
“The years go by and they’re bottling up a lot of things inside, and every story’s different,” he said. “They deal with anxiety and flashbacks and triggers and the memories they have of being in war and feelings of distress and difficulty sleeping. Anger issues, those kinds of things.”
“So if we can also look at it in relation to their spirituality,” he added, “that also can be a source of comfort, relief – to some degree. That’s just part of the picture.”
Last year, the Fresno VA dedicated a new mental health facility, anticipating need from soldiers back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Personal experience has helped Rommereim to understand where veterans are coming from. His father was in the military, once stationed in Japan. Like too many veterans, he has suffered from depression; discovering his vocation as a chaplain helped him to overcome it. About 18 months ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury when struck by a car.
He gets to know the patients in the long-term care facility best. They are the nearest thing he has now to a congregation: “I try to draw them to a God who is just and loving and accepting and grace-filled and a God that understands us better than I think we understand ourselves. That’s the God I know.”