Most people are surprised to learn that Pastor Ewing was a combat pilot and not a chaplain during his 23 year tenure with the Air Force. He now spends his time serving as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Calvert City.
Wings & Prayers
By Charlotte Kyle
Pastor Jim Ewing, 57, knew exactly what he wanted to do for as long as he could remember.
“It’s one of those crazy things when kids want to be a fireman or a policeman - I wanted to be in the Air Force since I was around seven years old,” Ewing said. “My mom said that’s all I talked about. When Air Force would play somebody on TV I would watch them. I wanted to fly; I wanted to do all of that.”
An Oregon native, Ewing attended the Air Force Academy and spent more than 23 years in the Air Force, from flying B-52s in North Dakota and Texas to working at the Pentagon. These experiences, he said, shaped who he was and created fond memories for himself and his family.
“Probably one of the neatest (experiences) was when I was stationed at Fort Worth and I was on one of the senior B-52 crews,” he said. “We got to fly to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and do a briefing for then-President Bush. That was a really neat experience for us.”
After Ewing and his wife Cheryl took a discipleship class in 1985 they realized they would like to do ministry. “The call to ministry to us was really quite a surprise,” he said. “I was trying to pursue a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and I saw myself working in Seattle at Boeing when I retired. That’s where my sight was headed.”
However, Ewing said he could not get the idea of ministry out of his head. He retired from the Air Force in the fall of 2000 and began seminary immediately. He received his Master of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “I loved the Air Force - I loved it dearly - but I really sensed that it would be God’s call in our hearts, in our lives that we would go into vocational ministry” he said.
Ewing worked in a church in Shreveport, Louisiana before moving to Paducah to work as a discipleship pastor. After almost four years in Paducah, Ewing was approached to be the pastor at First Baptist Church in Calvert City and has worked there since October 2008. People are surprised, he said, to learn of his background. “Most of them assumed that I was a chaplain - I was a combat pilot,” he said. “You don’t normally see that kind of transition. Most of them are (also) surprised when they find out I grew up on the West Coast. Most folks don’t end up over here from over there.”
He said his favorite part of working in Marshall County is interacting with the people, a role his time in the Air Force prepared him for. “As a commander I had opportunities to work with people through all kinds of personal and family crises,” he said. “As a commander or in senior staff positions I was able to connect with people, their lives and their families. Leading organizations, managing activities, all of those things were things the Air Force gave to me and have been tremendous help in the ministry.”
The Air Force is a huge part of who he is, Ewing said. “It’s in almost everything I do, in some way or another,” he said. “I still use military time on my phone and I still write the dates the way we used to - with the day, month and year. That’s just all part of who I am.”
His office at First Baptist Church is a testament to his two careers, with inspirational verses on the desk and framed pictures of airplanes hanging on the walls. A flight helmet sits on the shelf, something which catches the eyes of those who step into his office.
“That’s one of the favorites for the kids,” he said. “Whenever the little ones come in and we start talking about airplanes they all want to put on the helmet.”
Ewing’s four children faced challenges as the family moved around a lot, but he said now that they have gotten older they have been grateful for those experiences. “The Air Force has given us a bigger picture of the world,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of things.”
Still, the hardest part of being in the Air Force was the separation from his family. Sometimes, he said, he would have to be away from home, such as one winter when his family was back in North Dakota while he led a group of bombers over to Guam. “We were on the beach and they were in the snow,” he said.
The separation often happened when he was home, too.
“I can remember some weeks when I was a squadron commander that I would get up so early or get home so late that I missed my kids,” Ewing said. “I was home, they were home, but I would miss the whole day with them. Those kinds of things take a tremendous toll on the family. It takes a very patient family and I think it’s a high price to pay, but they were extremely supportive.
The hardest part of his job now, he said, is the pressure he puts on himself. “We’re living in a world and a culture where the church and church activities are becoming less accepted in communities as a whole and being able to reach the community with a message of faith in Jesus Christ isn’t as accepted as it was before,” he said.” I feel acutely aware of the fact that what we do here, how I do what I do, plays a big role in how we are seen in the community. I don’t want to mess it up, I want to do it right and sometimes I can feel the weight of that.”
The most rewarding part of both jobs, however, is the same: the people. “There was a community in the Air Force that was hard to imagine,” Ewing said. “I can remember when we would have the big inspections, walking out of the door of my house at 4:30 in the morning and there are eight other doors down the street opening because they’re all doing the same thing. When you have those kinds of shared experiences, the hardships and the exciting times, you grow really close. The military community is really close. I’m Air Force, but when I go down to Fort Campbell it feels like an old glove. It’s familiar to be in that world and the same thing here with the church. The people in the church, the people we’re able to interface with, particularly here in Marshall County, have just been a joy. That’s the part that I love doing every morning, every day.”
He said he appreciates how the community, including other churches, has embraced him and the church. He said there is no sense of competition between churches. “We have good relationships with the other churches in the community,” he said. “That’s been an important part of our experience. Our desire here at First Baptist Church is to be a light and support for the community. We want to do things, we want to be a part of things that are helpful to the community to grow, to draw closer. We want to be a constructive part of Calvert City.”
While Ewing said he misses the Air Force all the time, he misses it as “great memories” and loves what he is doing now.
Said Ewing: “I knew when I retired that I wouldn’t be able to have a 50-year career in ministry, but as long as the Lord gives me the strength and the people are willing to work with me I want to keep doing it.”