FARMINGTON — When a torpedo sunk the USAT Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943, during World War II, four chaplains on board sacrificed their life jackets to save the soldiers on board. They then sang hymns and prayed as the boat sunk.

In honor of those four chaplains, civitan clubs across the United States each year celebrate Clergy Appreciation Week the week of Feb. 3.

Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts proclaimed Clergy Appreciation Week during the Farmington City Council meeting last week. On Tuesday, members of the Farmington Noonday Civitans invited clergy members to join them for their weekly lunch meeting at Riverwalk Restaurant in Red Lion Inn.

Three local clergy members attended.

Ursula Messano, senior pastor at Bethany Christian Church, smiles on Tuesday during the Farmington Noonday Civitan meeting to honor clergy at Riverwalk
Ursula Messano, senior pastor at Bethany Christian Church, smiles on Tuesday during the Farmington Noonday Civitan meeting to honor clergy at Riverwalk Restaurant in Red Lion Inn in Farmington. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

"Your vocation that you've chosen deserves recognition," Bruce Hammons,the club president, told the clergy members at the end of the meeting.

Ursula Messano, the senior pastor of Bethany Christian Church, was one of the clergy members who attended the meeting. She had not heard the story of the USAT Dorchester before.

"I thought it was inspiring, but it's also so amazing because it's true," Messano said.

She said it reminded her that many Americans are people of faith and are extremely patriotic.

While Messano has never had to make a decision like the four clergy members made on the USAT Dorchester, she said she can identify with them in their desire to serve God, and she said clergy members should remember who their boss is.

"The person who we get both the meaning of our life and our mission from is God," she said.

Dave Blackwell, the senior minister of the First United Methodist Church in Farmington, also attended the lunch. Blackwell attended last year as well and knew the story of the USAT Dorchester from the previous year.

He said the biggest lesson people should remember from the story is the clergy members' sacrifice so others could know God and know life.

From left, Paul West, a chaplain with the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, the Rev. Dave Blackwell with First United Methodist Church and civitan
From left, Paul West, a chaplain with the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, the Rev. Dave Blackwell with First United Methodist Church and civitan member Virgil Artle eat lunch on Tuesday during the Farmington Noonday Civitan meeting to honor clergy at Riverwalk Restaurant in Red Lion Inn in Farmington. (Megan Farmer / The Daily Times)

He jokingly said a secondary lesson is to get more life boats.

In Farmington, he said he believes the most difficult challenge clergy members face is leading people to trust the church. However, he said he enjoys being part of the clergy. His favorite part, he said, is "watching people's lives get transformed."

He said he enjoys seeing new believers' excitement to tell others about Jesus.

The Farmington Noonday Civitans have been honoring clergy members during Clergy Appreciation Week since the 1960s.

"I think it is important for us to recognize the sacrifices people have made in the past," said Peggy Jones, a club member.

She said people who sacrifice so much should be remembered, regardless of their profession, and she admires how the men gave their life jackets to others knowing they wouldn't be able to survive without them.

"They knew they had their God to lean on and to protect them," she said.

Pam Brandebourg, another civitan member, said clergy members continue making these sacrifices both in the military and out of the military.

"It wasn't like a one time thing. They do it all the time, every day," Brandebourg said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.