R-MA chaplain returns home to guide students in faith

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — A town on a hill cannot be hidden — neither should the potential for doing good deeds be hidden. A lesson from the Bible, it’s also an idea that the Rev. Josh Orndorff plans to promote as chaplain at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal.

For students in his religious classes, it’s helpful that the military school provides its own literal representation of the idea from Matthew 5:14-16.

“R-MA is literally a city on a hill,” Orndorff said. It looks out over the community where Orndorff grew up and where he has started encouraging his students to be disciples of their faith.

A first day welcome service last week on R-MA’s campus and a Saturday ice cream social already set his plan going. Six area churches sent representatives to meet with about 100 cadets who showed an interest in learning more, he said.

According to Celeste Brooks, director of communications for the school, this is the first time R-MA has invited area churches to participate in a school function. So far, cadets have shown noticeable excitement for Orndorff’s programming, and according to Brooks, “We can see the difference.”

A voluntary Sunday service last weekend encouraged more than half of the 28 attendees to sign up as volunteers for other services.

In his Old Testament class and world religions class, Orndorff has been teaching what religion is, and how to use and study the Bible.

“We have such a great opportunity to study both of those subject contents because we’ve got students from different faith traditions, so we’re able to work together to create a learning environment where you can help one another,” he said.

Orndorff’s journey as chaplain began this summer when he, his wife Michelle and son Julian moved to Front Royal.

At 25, Orndorff is only a year younger than his father the Rev. Randy Orndorff was in 1989 when he was assigned as pastor of Riverton United Methodist Church. The family moved to Culpeper in 2004.

What’s more, he said, “It’s pretty neat because when my father took his appointment here in Front Royal, I was the exact same age as my son. We were literally only two days apart.” Now 5 months old, Julian was born on April 7, and the chaplain on April 9.

“It’s just great being here in Front Royal,” he said. “This is home for me.”

When Orndorff was 7, he said, he journaled that he wanted to be a pastor, but while pursuing religious studies and sociology at Randolph-Macon College, he was undecided on a focus. A minister at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina, where he earned his master’s degree in divinity last May, encouraged him to become a chaplain.

R-MA hired him after their previous chaplain, the Rev. Lemuel Pearsall, returned to active duty as an Army chaplain after 1 1/2 years at R-MA. A couple of the school’s teachers took over Pearsall’s classes, and according to Brooks, some ordained ministers teaching on campus and ministers from area United Methodist churches led chapel services last spring.

Orndorff started after the United Methodist Church then had to confirm his appointment.

His father has been supportive of his faith journey, and “let this be a journey that is my own,” Orndorff said. “He’s definitely excited that I’m back here in Front Royal.”

His father’s goal for him is also his goal for the cadets: “To help young people to hear God’s call in their life” — whether that call is for teaching, the military or a ministry. “My goal here is to be able to support students in their faith journey.”

While at R-MA, he wants to promote the idea of being the city on a hill — “That we are people from different walks of life, different countries, different religious faiths, but we can show the world what it means to love one another and to glorify God by caring for one another.”

Contact Randolph-Macon Academy at 540-636-5200 or http://www.rma.edu.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com