Rev. Ben Garris

The Rev. Benjamin Garris, pastor at Patuxent Presbyterian Church, recently won the distinction of U.S. Navy chaplain. He is awaiting his assignment in the Navy reserves, for which he serves at the rank of lieutenant junior grade.

Last month, the Rev. Benjamin Garris of Patuxent Presbyterian Church joined the ranks of just 800 U.S. Navy chaplains in the United States, marking a significant step in the young pastor’s journey to fulfilling a calling he received as a college student.

The now-30-year-old was active as a high school and college student in his Presbyterian church where he grew up in Banner Elk, N.C. Studying (and receiving a bachelor’s degree in) graphic arts at Appalachian State University, “it didn’t feel like it was a calling. I felt like, there’s something more, a deeper purpose I’m missing,” Garris said.

Garris was introduced to Navy chaplaincy around the time he graduated from college in 2011 by a friend in an ROTC program.

“I really took some time to pray about that,” he said, deeply considering “what the Lord was laying on my heart. … It was the realization of, ‘Oh, wow, this can be a vocation, this can be a career, not just something I do in my personal life. I can help others as well.”

It was a natural path for the young aspiring pastor to join the U.S. Navy Reserves — his grandfather served 31 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and some of his uncles and cousins were also enlisted in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Marines.

“I just felt a sense of family legacy in the Navy,” the newly minted reserves lieutenant junior said, adding that the Navy’s “model for ministry is different, [because] it really stresses what they, the Navy, call a ‘ministry of presence,’ where they want their chaplain to be out their with the sailors … building trust, being present in their lives.”

Garris began a chaplain candidacy program in 2012 while pursuing his master of divinity from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va., which he earned in 2015.

Garris graduated July 24 from the chaplain program, as did Clay Hamrick, Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s new active-duty chaplain.

The program involved “complete indoctrination into the military” and military environment, he said, adding that he learned “what it means to do ministry in this context.”

“As a Navy chaplain, we care for all individuals, regardless of faith orientation or lack thereof,” Garris said. Chaplains also give “advice to individuals who come looking for counseling,” as well as the commanding officers — “We advise them on moral and ethical and religious issues that may be impacting their mission at hand,” he said.

He will hold Christian services and Bible studies for the unit to which he is assigned. And for non-Protestants, Garris said he would help “facilitate so they can observe” their religious practices.

Garris is awaiting that assignment, which he hopes is close so he may continue serving the 400-member-strong congregation at Patuxent Presbyterian, he said. If the reserves unit were deployed, Garris would be called to join them.

One of his most significant takeaways from the program, Garris said, was advice from the U.S. Navy Chaplain School commanding officer, Capt. Steve Moses, about “upward living,” and “living kind of as if you’re going uphill. It’s hard, you’re fighting gravity, but you’re doing something worthwhile,” he said. “You’re working hard and working toward something that makes a difference. … It’s a privilege to do it, it’s a joy. It’s a great opportunity.”

‘Waterman of the Year’ nominations sought by club

In advance of the 2019 Blessing of the Fleet ceremony at St. Clements Island Museum in October, the 7th District Optimist Club is seeking nominees for Waterman of the Year.

The award is meant for an outstanding waterman who carries the spirit of what it means to work the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Ideal nominees must make their living on the water; demonstrate respect for and preservation of the bay habitat and the laws which govern its stewardship and fishing regulations; always lend a hand when needed on the water; teach the next generation the ways or history of the Bay; and most be a local resident, defined as the Chesapeake Bay watershed area.

Citizens are encouraged to submit their nominees to the Optimist Club by Sept. 1.

Nominations may be emailed to Blessing of the Fleet committee member Karen Stone at, or via regular postal mail to: Blessing of the Fleet Committee, 38370 Point Breeze Road, Colton’s Point, MD 20626.

The Blessing of the Fleet is a significant county celebration honoring the rich heritage of the bay, and the watermen who work its waters. This year’s event will be held Oct. 5 and 6 at the Colton’s Point museum.

For more information regarding the 7th District Optimist Club and its mission of community service, visit

Children’s event happening Saturday at island museum

With the start of a new school year just around the corner, families can enjoy a free day of fun in the sun on the waterside lawn at the annual Children’s Day at St. Clement’s Island Museum in Colton’s Point this Saturday, Aug. 17, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There will be a variety of activities including games, crafts, face painting, snow cones, balloons and more. Outside exhibitors include local fire department and rescue squads, and Hometown Karaoke & DJ Services will have everyone dancing to kid-friendly tunes. Cindy Freeland, a children’s book author, will give a story book presentation about the animals that live in and near the Chesapeake Bay.

The St. Clement’s Island Museum will be open and free of charge. The water taxi to St. Clement’s Island State Park will operate during normal hours, and the regular fee applies.

The Seventh District Optimist Club will provide a 50-cent meal menu and a free bike raffle for children 12 and younger. Organizers encourage families to get there early — the first 100 children will receive a free water bottle courtesy of the St. Mary’s museum division.

For more, call 301-769-2222 or visit

Dragon boats to race on Saturday

The Fourth Annual Solomons Island Dragon Boat Festival will be held on Saturday, Aug. 17, on the Patuxent River along the Solomons Island Riverwalk. Races will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be a variety of entertainment, food, crafts and kid-friendly activities. There will also be practice sessions during the evening on Friday, Aug. 16, as well as a Dotting of the Eye Ceremony at 7 p.m. outside Our Lady Star of the Sea on Solomons Island.

The event benefits Southern Maryland Community Resources, which creates opportunities for people with differing abilities, providing social, recreational and educational programs for the entire community, with an emphasis on accessibility for those with developmental differences.

For more about this weekend’s races, visit

Taste beer at Sotterley

Sotterley Barn Bash and Craft Beer Tasting will be held on Saturday, Aug. 24, from 3 to 8 p.m., with an early party for V.I.P. ticket holders starting at 2 p.m. There will be a selection of craft beer, live music and dancing, cornhole toss and other games, and food trucks. Tickets in advance are $20 and include a pint glass and four tastings. VIP tickets are $10 extra and include extra tastings. Tickets at the gate are $5 more. Tickets for designated drivers are $10. For more, visit

Free summer kids meals continue

St. Mary’s public schools’ Judy Center and food and nutrition services offered a free meal program this summer in partnership with the St. Mary’s County Library and a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The programs held this summer at two elementary schools concluded on Aug. 8. However, children and their families can still visit the Lexington Park library from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Mondays to Fridays through Aug. 30 to receive a nutritious box lunch. For more information or to make a contribution, contact the Judy Center at 301-863- 4068.

Church to host yard sale extravaganza

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, located at 27108 Mt. Zion Church Road, next to the Apple Basket, will hold its annual yard sale on Friday, Aug. 30, and Saturday, Aug. 31, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. both days in the fellowship hall. There will be collectibles, dishware, electronics, tools, clothes, toys, books, appliances, furniture and many other items.

For more information or to make a donation, contact Nardine Daniels at 240-925-1543. All proceeds benefit the church’s Hungry Team, which keeps the food pantry stocked, and also helps to offset the cost of utility bills for those in need in St. Mary’s.

CHS Class of 1969 to hold reunion

The Chopticon High School Class of 1969 is planning its 50th class reunion for the fall of 2019. Members or teachers of this class can update contact information to receive announcements for the festivities by contacting Sarah Blackistone Richardson at 240-925-1119 or, or Norwood Graves 301-848-9525 or

Children can audition for choir

Audition for the Children’s Chorus of Maryland will be held on Aug. 27 from 9 to 11 a.m., on Aug. 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Aug. 29 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Children’s Chorus of Maryland and School of Music, located at 320 East Towsontown Blvd. in Towson. Previous singing experience is not necessary. Register online at

Seniors can learn about Lyme disease

The St. Mary’s County Department of Aging and Human Services’ Northern Senior Activity Center last month was recognized with a Program of Excellence Award: Honorable Mention in the Nutrition and Health Promotions Category from the Maryland Association of Senior Centers for Lyme Action Tool Kits.

The kits were developed to fill a public education and outreach niche for the complex issue of tick-borne disease. MarieNoelle Lautieri, Northern Senior Activity Center Operations manager and facilitator of a lyme disease support group, learned that the senior community was asking for direct and specific instructions about this topic and produced the tool kit for those not comfortable using, or without access to, the internet.

Toolkits are available free of charge to those 50 years of age or older, one per person. For more information, visit or call 301-475-4200, ext. 71050.