MARCO ISLAND — Brig. Gen. Douglas E. Lee was the perfect guest speaker for Marco Island’s Community Prayer Breakfast. On Tuesday, he addressed the island’s largest interfaith event attended by 515 people at the Marco Marriott Resort & Spa.
After 31 years of active duty, the retired Lee used his experience as a chaplain to distill views on military service and religious tolerance.
Lee grew up believing that serving his country would be the high point in his career. Disappointment derailed that dream when a back ailment eliminated him from being drafted to serve in Vietnam.
The hope of military success took back seat, and Lee followed another calling into the service of God. He earned a divinity degree from Covenant Theological Seminary expecting to spend his life ministering in civilian attire, but it wasn’t to be.
A friend told Lee about the Army National Guard. It was then Lee realized he could serve his country and his God in the same lifetime as an army chaplain.
Lee rose through the ranks becoming one of only 200 clergymen recognized as endorsers of service chaplains. In that position Lee was given the authority to grant permission for other clergy in his faith to serve as chaplains.
From his view, Lee saw the United States endowed with rights grounded in the U.S. Constitution and particularly though the First Amendment.
“It’s a fragile thing, this democracy in which we live,” Lee said. “The First Amendment was very critical to our Founding Fathers.”
Freedom, liberty, and tolerance for diverse religious views were indisputable as handed down by the Constitution. That tolerance, Lee said, guided his actions as an army chaplain.
“We will have our doctrinal differences,” Lee said. “Education helps us all to understand each other.”
Within each faith, military chaplains are at liberty to preach, teach and council those of similar beliefs, Lee said. But outside their faith, chaplains have a responsibility to support the rights of others with differing beliefs. They do so by aiding those groups to meet and worship freely and by providing religious support for them to do so.
“The right to collect and worship freely is a very precious exercise” Lee said. “It’s something very, very precious.”
His presentation brought a standing ovation.
Lee’s tribute to religious tolerance was echoed in the program that bookended his speech. Prayers were offered by Fr. Tim Navin, San Marco Catholic Church; Rabbi Edward Maline, Jewish Congregation of Marco Island; and Pastor Curt Ayers, Capri Christian Church.
Lee’s passion for the military found its home in a tribute to all branches of service led by Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, accompanied by the music of Marv Hollenbeck. Lely High School’s Jr. ROTC posted the colors with Chief Warrant Officer Mike Harp presiding.
The Mega Praise Team led by Linda Krehling wrapped attendees in hymns of prayer and anthems of praise. Their truly exceptional voices wove a cloak of emotion through powerful and moving musical selections.
The group received a standing ovation for “Praise You,” a worship song full of vibration, chant and uplifting praise set to the pulse-pounding accompaniment of Lely High School’s Drum Corps.
Don Kolowsky, chairman of the prayer breakfast committee, acknowledged those who help prepare the program and the Marco Marriott Resort & Spa for facilitating the event.
The Community Prayer Breakfast was taped and will be televised March 4 on Marco Island Cable’s Channel 10.