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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.

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)
Related Names
Ableson, Bradford Edward
Language of Materials