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Bradford Edward Ableson Papers

Call Number: RG 222

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the life and work of Bradford E. Ableson, distinguished Yale Divinity School alumnus and prominent U.S. military chaplain. First a Presbyterian minister and later an Episcopal priest, Ableson was decorated for his service during the Persian Gulf War and served as Command Chaplain aboard the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, one of the largest warships in the world. From 1996 to 1999 Ableson served as chaplain at Camp David during the Clinton administration, providing pastoral care to the President, his family, and support staff at the Maryland retreat. Correspondence, writings, sermons, and subject files provide detailed documentation of Ableson's thought, leadership skills, and dedication to his work. From early on in his career as a Navy chaplain, Ableson recognized the profound disconnect between Christians from the West and citizens in the Muslim world, and in the 1980s he emerged as an expert on preparing service members with knowledge and understanding that would make them respectful visitors in Muslim countries. Ableson's journal written during operation Desert Storm (1991) provides valuable documentation about the work of a chaplain in a combat setting.

Series I, Correspondence is primarily related to Ableson’s work as a naval chaplain and contains letters and memos to and from the Department of the Navy and the Marines. Photocopies of letters received from President Bill Clinton and a small amount of personal correspondence with family and friends is also included. Ableson's letters to and from President Clinton, as well as photographs and a stole, were sent to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library by his family in 2009.

Series II, Writings and Notes, is divided into three subseries: School Papers, Articles and Papers, and Journal. The School Papers include class notes, final exams and term papers from Ableson’s graduate work at Boston University, Yale Divinity School, Columbia Theological Seminary, and the Naval War College. The Articles and Papers include published articles and papers written primarily for military and chaplaincy publications. The Journal is comprised of the hand-written journal Ableson kept while serving as chaplain in Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm. The journal pages were removed from the original three ring binder for better preservation. Portions of Ableson's Caribbean journal and Desert Storm journal have been restricted until 2035.

Series III, Sermons and Speeches, is divided into two subseries: Chronological Sequence and Memorials. The Chronological Sequence is primarily made up of sermons given by Ableson at Camp David from 1996-1999. In addition to the typed copies of the sermons and service programs, there is also a CD which contains electronic files of the sermons. The Chronological Sequence also contains untitled and undated sermons. The Memorials include typed and handwritten memorial services conducted by Ableson. Captain Ableson did not want to have his sermons published because they were intended as oral presentations and in some cases may have contained unattributed quotations and stories. Captain Ableson realized that it would take a great deal of research to track down and provide specific attribution for these quotations and stories, and he felt it was unwise to allow publication when individuals quoted were still active. A twenty-five year restriction has been placed on any publication of the Ableson sermons; the Yale Divinity Library recognizes the value of Captain Ableson’s sermons and their reflection of the context in which he delivered them, but will caution anyone who may want to publish sermons or excerpts from them in the future regarding Captain Ableson’s concerns.

Series IV, Personal Items and Memorabilia includes biographical documentation arranged chronologically, military service records, awards and certificates, material from conferences and programs attended, photographs, and plaques. Of special interest in this series are Ableson’s naval uniform and a handmade liturgical stole worn by him during Operation Desert Storm.

Series V, Subject Files are arranged alphabetically. These files were created by Ableson and kept as he labeled them.

Series VI, Resources contains books, pamphlets, periodicals and manuscripts written by others. The resources are organized into three general areas of interest: Naval Chaplaincy, Military, and Ministry resources. These resources have been retained as a sampling of the materials Captain Ableson used in his military and ministerial work. Other resources received with the Ableson papers have been added to the Yale Divinity Library's cataloged collection.

Series VII, Audiovisual contains primarily ministry related cassette tapes, CDs, and videotapes. Of special interest is a recording of an interview of Chaplain Ableson with Barbara Witcher of KBRT, July 4, 1992.


  • 1978-2010


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Ownership and copyright have been transferred to Yale University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Julia Tevis Narz Ableson, 2009


  1. I. Correspondence, 1980-2010
  2. II. Writings and Notes, 1980-2002
  3. III. Sermons and Speeches, 1987-2008
  4. IV. Personal Items and Memorabilia, 1978-2009
  5. V. Subject Files
  6. VI. Resources, 1983-2008
  7. VII. Audio-visual Material, 1984-2007


11 Linear Feet (26 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


These papers include correspondence, sermons, writings, and other documentation of the life and work of Bradford Edward Ableson, a Yale Divinity School graduate, Captain in the Chaplain Corps of the U.S. Navy, and clergyman. A prominent chaplain with a distinguished 25-year naval career, Captain Ableson provided combat ministry with Marines during Operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf War. From 1996 to 1999, he assumed Presidential Service duties as the Chaplain at Camp David, Maryland during the Clinton Administration. In 2004, he was promoted to the rank of Navy captain and assumed responsibilities as Command Chaplain of the U.S. Strategic Command.

Biographical / Historical

1959 Jan 2
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma to Winston A. Ableson and Juanise Davis Ableson. Born 7 1/2 weeks prematurely, he weighed 4 pounds, 4 ounces at birth and spent 31 days in an incubator before being released from the hospital.
Graduated from Charles C. Mason High School where he had played on the Mason Patriot Football team as an offensive guard.
Attended University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma, B.A. magna cum laude.
Attended Boston University School of Theology, Master of Theological Studies in Psychology and Pastoral Counseling.
Attended Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Certificate of Special Studies
Death of his first wife, the former Gina Marie Benzel
Attended Yale University Divinity School, Master of Divinity. Received Yale's Mersick Prize for public speaking, 1985.
1984 Mar 28
Commissioned: Ensign, U.S. Navy Theological Student Program
Naval Reservist: Naval Chaplains School, Newport, RI, summer 1984; Recruit Training Command, San Diego, California, summer 1985; USS Lexington (AVT-16), Pensacola, Florida, summer 1986.
1985 Jun 2
Ordained Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1986Sep 30
Married Julia Tevis Narz of Louisville, Kentucky.
Naval Weapons Station, Concord, California, served as Station Chaplain and Marine Barracks Chaplain.
USS MARS (AFS-1), Oakland, California, served as Ship's Chaplain and took part in the Persian Gulf, Operation Earnest Will escorts.
Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, FMFPac, El Toro, California, performed combat ministry, Desert Storm.
Marine Air Control Group 38, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, FMFPac, El Toro, California, served as Group Chaplain for 6 fleet units homeported at Camp Pendleton, El Toro and Tustin, California.
Submarine Squadron 2, Groton, Connecticut, served as Squadron Chaplain for the largest submarine squadron in the Navy and as Waterfront Ministry Coordinator, Naval Submarine Base, New London.
Camp David, Maryland, Presidential Service.
Received Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary. Recipient of Columbia's Sanders Prize for theology and Columbia's Telford Award for social justice. Dissertation: "Fields of Blood: A Theological Critique of United States Landmine Policy in Light of the 1997 Ottawa Process"
Chief of Chaplains Office, Washington, DC, served as Deputy Executive Assistant to the Chief of Navy Chaplains.
Basic Military Free Fall Parachutist, U.S. Air Force, Colorado Springs, CO.
Attended United States Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. Received M.A. in National Security & Strategic Studies (Distinguished Graduate).
USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73), Norfolk, Virginia, served as Command Chaplain. Combat operations: Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch, 2002.
United States Strategic Command, Omaha, Nebraska, served as Command Chaplain. Promoted to the rank of Navy captain, 2004..
Became Episcopal priest under the Diocese of Kentucky. Priest-in-Residence at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Omaha
Established the Bradford E. Ableson Prize for Ecclesiastical Leadership at Yale Divinity School, a commencement prize for the YDS student whose judgment and character are best suited for church leadership.
2007Jun 29
Received the Defense Superior Service Medal for Exceptionally Meritorious Service for the Armed Forces of the United States. Other awards received by Ableson during his career included three Meritorious Service Medals, four Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medals, campaign and unit award, Basic Parachutist Wings, and the Presidential Service Award.
Special Advisor to Command Chaplain, United States Strategic Command, Omaha, Nebraska
2008 Oct 14
Received the Lux et Veritas award from Yale Divinity School. The Lux et Veritas award is awarded to someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in applying the compassion of Christ to the diverse needs of the human condition through the wider church, institutional ministries, ecumenical organizations, not-for-profit organizations, government, or industry.
Inducted into the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma Alumni Hall of Fame.
2009 Feb 17
Died in Omaha, Nebraska of cancer.
2009 Sep 22
Dedication ceremony for the Bradford E. Ableson Memorial Library on the USS George Washington (CVN-73)
Guide to the Bradford Edward Ableson Papers
Kristen Albert and Martha Lund Smalley
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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