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Garden City priest appointed to U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps

The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Sniffen skippering his

The Very Rev. Dr. Michael Sniffen skippering his 1974 Bristol 30' cruising boat. Credit: Joanna Yoho

As a boy, the Very Rev. Dr. Michael Sniffen attended a summer church camp on Shelter Island where he both learned to sail and studied the Bible. He later became an instructor there.

Now, the lifelong sailor is marrying his passions for being on the water with his call to serve God: he has been appointed as an officer in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps by President Joseph Biden, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

Sniffen, whose regular job is overseeing the main cathedral in Garden City for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, will minister as a noncombatant to active duty navy, Marines, members of the Coast Guard and their families.

He will be on duty in his new role for about six weeks out of the year, with substantial time aboard ships.

"I grew up on the water here on Long Island" in Oyster Bay "and it is where I have always felt closest to God," Sniffen said. "Serving at sea can be very challenging and lonely. It makes the spiritual care of deployed sailors that much more important."

He will be commissioned June 7, the day after D-Day, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in a ceremony attended by the Bishop for the Armed Force and Federal Ministries.

Sniffen grew up in a seagoing family, though they weren’t sailors. His father and grandfather were commercial clam diggers in Oyster Bay.

As a kid he banged around on sailboats with friends, but at age 12 started going to a church camp on Shelter Island called Quinipet where he mastered the art of sailing. He eventually worked there.

The camp "is certainly one of the only places I am aware of on Long Island where one teaches sailing and bible study as part of the same job," he said.

He went on to sail and race boats including Sunfish, Bluejays, Lasers, Sonars and Etchells.

After the camp, he worked as a sailing instructor at The Creek Club on the North Shore. He kept that position through college, eventually becoming the waterfront director — a job he did every summer until he finished seminary.

He still sails today. He and his wife, Joanna, sail a small vintage wooden boat called a Beetle Cat, and a 1974 Bristol 30’ cruising boat, which that have taken as far as St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, called Sniffen’s appointment a "rare reserve commission."

"As a lifelong sailor, I know that he will be at home ministering on the waters," Provenzano said.

Sniffen served as a chaplain in France for the 70th and 75th anniversaries of D-Day.

Provenzano said Sniffen's new assignment expands the work of the diocese’s Center for Spiritual Imagination, which focuses on the spiritual needs of those underserved by the church including students, food-insecure families and people in jail.

Sniffen said he is thrilled with the new endeavor.

The summer camp decades ago "certainly had a significant impact on the direction of my life. Taking up this new ministry at 40 years old, feels like an honoring of my roots in many ways."

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