A board certified clinical chaplain with significant hospital experience in both the Navy and civilian world, Vinson found himself in an unexpected conversation with a congregation that is unusual in its outreach and its ministry to one another. This new church, the first congregation for Vinson to serve since 1993, has felt like home for him and his wife Julie. By the time of Vinson’s retirement ceremony at his Naval Station Norfolk, he was well into the “call” process with First Christian Church (Hampton, Virginia) and, after a quick decompression, was installed as its minister on November 1, 2017.
Vinson is a “Trekkie” who also enjoys the “Force” of Star Wars, a gardener who enjoys rock masonry, a Civil War history buff who used to be an artillery reenactor, and sometimes an amateur photographer. His family loves him and mostly tolerates his sense of humor, but always draws the line at Vinson trying to sing (he can’t), or dance (it might be OK in a dark room). Vinson considers himself to be a North Carolinian, because as a pastor’s son, with the family moving among the states–including Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Carolina, New York, and Illinois–the one home that never changed was at his grandparents’ mountain house in Brevard, North Carolina, where he spent many summers. Later, Vinson would have the good sense to marry a Tar Heel, Julia Caroline Bedford (now Miller), with whom he was blessed to have a daughter (A.J.) and son (Ben).
Vinson is a life-long member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and takes to heart its two-centuries-old adage: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, diversity. In all things, charity (love).” If that last phrase isn’t in play, then we are doing it wrong as followers of Christ, especially as we now find ourselves in an age when divisiveness seems to be the norm and the Bible has been “weaponized.” At times, it has seemed a bit unclear to Vinson whether Christ’s church is in a season of the scriptural phrases being reduced to “the faithful remnant” or being called forth as “the leaven in the lump.” The ground upon which he chooses to stand, hopeful, is Joshua’s phrase: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Vinson has a deep appreciation for the insights of others and fostering mentoring relationships and connecting diverse souls, having had some amazing spiritual mentors and just many cherished friends in his life, including but not limited to Ella Mae, Tip, George, and Pluma. He holds, close, his Mom’s two pieces of wisdom she offered upon his going into ministry: “People will forgive a lot a bad preaching if you are a good pastor” (although he tries hard not to test the former) and “a lot of ministers fail because they don’t know how to do administrative work” (which he is thankfully pretty decent at… most of the time). Vinson’s own requests of God as he set out in ministry? He asked, in every place he serves, (1) to discover one lifetime friend and (2) to see one life changed as a direct result of his ministry. So far, so good. The first has ensured his spiritual and emotional health as a minister and the second has always been met, giving him a landmark to know he is in the right place. These have been amply supported by the grace of God and some amazing folks along the way, so Vinson has no plans to change this perspective.
For those who want more detail about Vinson or just have too much free time…
He is the son of two Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) clergy: the late Reverend J. Earl Miller and the late Reverend Mary Lou Miller Taylor. Back in the early 1960s, as he was too young to go to school and there were no daycare centers back then, Vinson was dragged along to his parents’ seminary classes. While auditing those classes, something must have stuck, although the only thing he remembers, clearly is the steady supply of coloring books and how at the 10 o’clock coffee break, someone always made sure to place one of the platters of donuts near the table’s edge, along with a carton of chocolate milk. Vinson considers that his first communion.
He graduated from Transylvania University (yes, it’s a real school!) in Lexington, Kentucky with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology. His first vocation was as a town manager and, although there were elements of great satisfaction, Vinson realized that wasn’t his purpose in life. He went on to spend two years in home construction while sorting out his path in life. It wasn’t a bad choice in training for ministry–Jesus was a carpenter and Vinson has overseen significant remodeling at several chapels and churches.
Vinson was called to ministry to his own great surprise, given it was definitely something he was unwilling to consider. Vinson attended Lexington Theological Seminary from 1983-1987, having had with the bright idea to get married the week before. (He would not recommend it.) During those years, Vinson was a part-time pastor for three congregations in Scott County, Kentucky and, with Julie, was a weekend manager Ronald McDonald House (a refuge for the families of critically ill children). In May 1987, upon completion of his Master of Divinity at Lexington Theological Seminary, the Christian Church ordained him to ministry at Middletown Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He then served as an ER/ICU chaplain at University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, KY, following completion of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). He went on to serve congregations in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Commissioned as a Lieutenant JG, with an appointment as a Navy Chaplain on July 7th, 1993, Vinson reported to active duty on September 29th of that year and attended Chaplain School during the start of winter in Rhode Island. Three days after graduation, Vinson deployed for six months. Welcome to the Navy! Vinson retired on September 8th, 2017, with his last official day in the Navy on November 30th, 2017. Immediately after his retirement ceremony, he did what most sailors do–he grew out his beard.
He is a board certified clinical chaplain with the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP), having five units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) between the University of Kentucky and his Pastoral Care Residency with Naval Medical Center Portsmouth/Veterans Administration Medical Center Hampton; a Myers Briggs Personality Type Instructor, having studied under Otto Kroeger; a Grief Recovery Certified Trainer, through The Grief Recovery Institute. He has had seven classes through the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and is a Caregiver Occupational Stress Control Trainer, through The Figley Institute. Put simply, Vinson is used to dealing with trauma.
Vinson’s operational assignments included: the Yokosuka-based USS Independence (CV 62);Command Chaplain for Naval Special Warfare Group Two and all subordinate commands, with additional duty to Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Naval Special Warfare Boat Squadron Two and its subordinate commands, and coverage for Explosive Ordinance Disposal Two and Mobile Diving and Salvage Group Two; Battalion Chaplain in 3rd Marine Regiment with 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines (infantry), 1st Battalion 12th Marines (artillery), and Battalion Landing Team 3/3 under 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, deploying, and during this tour he promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He served as Regimental Chaplain for 6th Marine Regiment, after which we was reassigned to shore duty due to extensive injuries. During these tours, he deployed in support of Taiwan and South Korea contingency operations and Operation Southern Watch twice, to Okinawa, Korea, and Australia. He was also deployed for relief operations in East Timor and military operations in the Philippines. In Iraq, he provided the first generation “Warrior Transition” counseling for departing SEAL team personnel while assigned to CREDO Midlant.
Vinson’s clinical assignments included: a post-graduate Clinical Pastoral Residency (CPR) Program at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Command Chaplain, Naval Hospital Lemoore, during which he promoted to Commander in February 2009. Later, as a board certified chaplain, he was Program Director for the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and then as Deputy Director for CREDO Mid-Atlantic, where, off-duty in 2004, he developed and implemented a training program for civilian clergy to provide transition care for returning Reserve and National Guard personnel.
Vinson’s installation assignments included: Mid-Atlantic (Acting) Regional Chaplain for 5 months; Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story during LIMDU status; Command Chaplain for Naval Air Station Oceana; Naval Weapons Station Yorktown filling a 6-month gapped billet; and Naval Station Norfolk Chapel twice – the first time to consolidate chapel closures and the second as Command Chaplain. This was his final Navy tour, from May 2015 until September 2017.