‘Seward made me a much more willing and eager learner’
During her work week, Seward County Community College alumna Antigone Lowry appears to be a hardworking, thoughtful clergywoman who just happens to be in great physical shape —she’s an avid CrossFit competitor. But there’s more to the associate pastor at First Congregational church in Akron, Ohio, than meets the eye. One weekend a month, Lowry heads to 256 Field Hospital in Twinsburg, New York, where she fills another role — that of U.S. Army Chaplain (captain).
If those two roles seem like a stretch, consider the ever-turning path Lowry followed to her current vocation. It all started with tennis, which was “really the only thing I was interested in,” as a high school senior, Lowry recalls.
“I tell people all the time, the reason I went to school was to play tennis, and that opened up a lot more for me,” she said. “I knew I wanted to play at a four-year university, and SCCC had a long history of recruiting good players.”
Lowry’s high school coach in Tyler, Texas, knew Darin Workman, the SCCC tennis coach at the time, and made the recommendation.
“Of course, Darin is a delight,” she said, “and Seward was a good fit. It was interesting being an American, on that team. At that time, we were half-and-half international and U.S. Australia, Brazil, Serbia, Russia. It really just was a benefit for all of us.”
When you’re constantly competing with your teammates, you improve your craft, and set yourselves in the best position to excel. It was the competitiveness on that team, Lowry reflects, “that set me up for more opportunities.”
Transferring to Judson University in Elgin, Ill., Lowry continued playing tennis and served as a resident assistant in student housing. One of the responsibilities was to be a small group leader, building relationships with the women in the dorm groups and with their parents. It was one mother and U.S. Army veteran who planted the idea in Lowry’s mind that military service might be her next step in life.
“She saw something in me, said I had good leadership skills, and encouraged me to consider enlisting,” said Lowry. “No woman in my family had ever served. Having this veteran see something in me piqued my curiosity.”
A visit to the recruiter in Denton, Texas, convinced Lowry that military service would “at least give me a job, and an opportunity to figure out what I would want to do next.” She joined the U.S. Army on winter break of her senior year in college (2011), graduated in May, and left for basic training 20 days later.
By 2012, she was stationed at Gunsan / Kunsan Air Base base outside Seoul, South Korea, followed by two years at Fort Hood, Texas, and two at Fort Totten in New York. Along the way, Lowry’s military service clarified her sense of purpose.
“I had been raised in communities that didn’t instill in me fear, but encouraged me to try,” she said. “You never know what an experience will be for you, and I went into the Army aware that I didn’t have a sense of direction or a sense of purpose. Those years did exactly that.”
Lowry realized she wasn’t equipped to be someone who holds a weapon or a rifle.
“I’m not a pacifist, but I am a noncombatant,” she said. “I found I was able to use my gift in different ways, as a chaplain to support the soldiers who are having to be in environments that cause trauma.” The role, while far from the direct line of fire, was not without risk.
“A chaplain has to serve the soldier or command that happens to be in an area that is dangerous — so you’re going to go there, too. I felt called to serve as a chaplain, and anything in life worth doing comes with a certain set of risks.”
For Lowry, that included a deployment to the Middle East, followed by service in the Army reserve, and her current role in the Army National Guard, where she is stationed with the 256 Field Hospital in Twinsburg, N.Y.
As her role in the armed forces evolved, Lowry attended seminary in New York for three years, earning her credentials for full-time work as a church pastor. Today, she serves as associate minister at First Congregational church of Akron, Ohio. One weekend a month, she heads east to continue her work as a National Guard chaplain.
It’s a good fit, she noted, because her theology studies required her to complete clinical pastoral training.
“I run into those instances where people have those different life challenges, maybe tried to commit suicide, has a marital breakup, needs someone to process them with,” she said. “All those challenges people have can affect the work they do for the military. A chaplain can help mediate between those two identities, so that they don’t clash.”
The rhythm of her work has shifted to a “much more intentional” model when she’s on base, with long-distance check-ins with her soldiers through the month.
“Because I am part of the command staff, there are weekly briefs in preparation for the drill, checking on morale, advisement, counseling sessions,” she said. Her role provides support to create a sense of unit morale.
While Lowry herself identifies with protestant Christian faith, chaplaincy requires her to provide nondenominational religious accommodations for all soldiers, whether they are Muslim, Catholic, or “something else, whether you call it no-faith or all-faith or agnostic,” she said. Lowry is comfortable with cultural shifts, in part from her deployments and, going further back, her experiences at SCCC.
“It started with that sense of being on a team,” she said. “Even just the fact that I was given the ability to do life with people from different countries and experiences, ethnically, culturally, geographically, that has worked really well for me as a chaplain.”
Lowry reflected that unity forged from diversity holds a special power.
“There are a number of people who come into the military from other countries and gain citizenship that way. Like I experienced on the tennis team, the uniform kind of makes you one, you struggle together, you celebrate together. Seward and my experience there just made me a much more willing and eager learner.”
As she continues pastoral work in Akron and looks ahead to a nine-month deployment with the Army on humanitarian mission in August, Lowry anticipates more growth.
“Looking back to my college years, I can see that every single thing is woven together with the next,” she said. “It’s a reminder to be fully present, whatever you are experiencing, and to learn as much as you can.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — As part of the College’s 50th anniversary celebration, 50 alumni have been named to the “Hall of Saints.” Lowry is one of the inductees.