When Air Force chaplain, Capt. Matthew Spencer needs a place of serenity, he takes to the woods where he enjoys hunting and being surrounded by nature. (U.S. Air Force video/Senior Airman Kaylee Clark)
The tip of an arrow must be sharp like a razor to pierce the heart of its prey. The hunter spends countless hours honing the many skills required to become a bridge from this life to the next.
As he stands describing the qualities of a fine arrow you could not distinguish whether Capt. Matthew Spencer is filming an episode of a hunting show or delivering the word of God.
It may seem strange to some that a man who has devoted himself to saving others’ lives relishes the opportunity to take life. For Spencer, it’s not about seeing one of God’s creations die, but rather the journey a hunt represents.
Spencer, a member of the Air Force Reserve and stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, is filling the Protestant chaplain position at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, while the active-duty chaplain is deployed.
“It’s a great job for me because I want to see people prosper. I used to be a young Airman too, and I know the difficulties that come along with that,” said Spencer, who spent his first six years of service as an enlisted security forces Airman. “I just want to see people get where they need to be in their career and, more importantly, their life.”
It’s easy to envision Spencer in the woods rehearsing his sermon, quoting Genesis 27:3, “Now take your hunting equipment, your quiver and bow, and go out into the wild country and hunt some wild game for me.” This scripture directly reflects him as a person. He lives it.
“I really enjoy the outdoors. I love to hunt,” Spencer said. “That’s my outlet — to just get away and get in the woods and just be who I grew up being. For me, it’s connecting with God while I am out there. That is where I feel the most connected to him.”
The holidays were a busy time around the chapel. Spencer, a husband and a father, spent the season separated from his family and serving the men and women of the base.
On Christmas Day, Spencer started before the sun came up, preparing a bounty that he harvested during his stay here. Back in Florida, he films a hunting show, Final Fate T.V., which is aired on Dish Network’s Hunting Channel. On this day, instead of filming another episode, he chose to wake at 3 a.m. to cook for Airmen who had to work.
“I was elated that someone would care about us and put in all that work to bring us food while we were out here doing our job,” said Airman 1st Class Charles Bryant, a member of the 19th Security Forces Squadron. “It made me feel great.”
After spending several hours with the Airmen, it was time to take it to the woods.
Warm coffee in hand and the backseat of his pickup filled with equipment and camouflage, Spencer headed to his sanctuary. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he slowly and softly closed his door, so as not to wake his trophy, and the hunt began.
The hunter carefully applied paint to his face and began to bleed into the nature that surrounded him. He amassed layer upon layer of gear and inspected his bow and razor-sharp arrows. With a grin on his face, he hoped that today would be the day.
“It’s not just about the trophy or the size of the antlers. To me, it’s about the journey and how it all comes together, and — at the end of the day — how did you share that with your friends,” Spencer said. “Fellowship is really what I live for, it’s what I really desire.”
Spencer’s personal life directly mirrors his spiritual one. No two days are ever the same.
“You can relate the two as far as the ups and downs,” Spencer said. “Some days, you will come in with the uniform on as a chaplain, and it’s a really good day – a lot of positive things are happening. But some days, you have to deal with some really hard things that just weigh on your heart. The same can be in the woods. There’s times we go days or weeks at a time and sit in a tree freezing and not see anything.”
Ups and downs aside, chaplains are needed around the clock. Whether it be delivering an inspirational message on Sunday or waking up at an undesirable time to console a grieving family, a chaplain’s work is never done.
“The one thing that we chaplains have is 100-percent confidentiality. No matter what somebody walks into our office with, we don’t take it outside those doors,” Spencer said. “A lot of the time it weighs on our hearts. Even though we are here to help, we are humans as well.”
Even chaplains need to renew their spirituality. When Spencer needs a place of serenity to lay down his burdens and the cares of the world, he takes it to the woods. His pulpit is a tree, and his congregation encompasses the inhabitants of the forest. He receives his amens from the sounds of nature, and he feels the presence of God every time the wind blows, momentarily returning him to the hunts of his youth.
“When I dig deep into why I love being a chaplain and love hunting, it boils down to understanding that I will never perfect either, but the journey trying is addicting,” Spencer said.
The woods are his sanctuary, and hunting his way of life.