The main purpose of this website is to help support congregations in their ministry to military veterans and the ELCA Federal Chaplaincy that encompasses the military, veteran hospitals, and federal correctional facilities. A key area of this support is direct help to folks in our pews and neighborhoods who may need additional attention due to the stress of their vocations on our behalf. Chaplain Aaron Fuller, an ELCA Navy Reserve Chaplain, currently on an active duty deployment, shared recently a perfect example of this need for direct support from our congregations. He asks a question that can only be answered by us. Read it in Chaplain Fuller’s words.
“I wanted to share an experience I had two days ago, something for us to think about in addressing the relationship between congregations and caring for service members and their families.
I’m currently mobilized to serve as chaplain for Navy individual augmentees and mobilizing reservists. The other day, I had a service member approach me and let know her spouse was not responding well to the deployment, and was struggling to care for himself and their two year old. After getting them connected to all the available resources the Navy has to address their financial issues, the service member mentioned a church – an ELCA congregation – to which she belonged, had their daughter baptized, yet hadn’t been to in over a year, “we work on Sundays, and life gets busy, you know?” I asked if I could contact the church on their behalf and they both said yes.
The response? The pastor is on vacation, and the layperson who took the call, after I stated they weren’t looking for financial support, but this might be an opportunity to reconnect them with their church family, replied, “Well, no one here knows them. I’m not really sure what you want us to do. I suppose we can send them a note, and I’ll be sure to add them to our prayer list. She (the service member) has a bit of a past here as well.”
I’m going to take the optimist road here and say that I think this congregation simply didn’t know what to do. How does a congregation reach into the lives of those who are suffering and struggling? How does the church reach into the darkness that is the reality of deployment? (especially reserve deployments, often lacking the same support as active duty folks have) How do churches see this as an opportunity for ministry, and have imagination beyond what is ‘typical?’”
Chaplain Fuller adds that the reality of his current chaplaincy ministry is facilitation, connecting folks to chaplains stateside and connecting families to local resources in times of need. He wonders how we can do a better job of identifying our congregations as places that are open and inclusive to service members and their families. He asks, “Do we have such an initiative in place?”
The answer is “yes” without a formal national program as some have attempted to do.
We have several resources that can help jump start congregations to being havens of God’s invitation to service personnel. Start with this website under the tab “Congregational Resources” where downloads of excellent information deal with a variety of ways to work with returning military from conflicts. Check out the H.E.R.O.E.S. Care program and its approach. There is an excellent Suicide Prevention piece here as well. Under the tab “Spotlight and Showcase” you can find articles titled Congregation Care for Veterans and Risk Healing Connections that deals with forgiveness and healing of spiritual and emotional wounds. More pathways can be found to other resources at Websites and Resources under the Congregational Resources tab.
There are 25 synods that now have “Centurion Connectors”, resource folks working with your respective synod bishop in support of veterans and the ELCA Federal Chaplaincies. Their ministry is to support you in your ministry to veterans. Hit tab “Congregational Resources” and the article “Centurion Connections”. This will outline the program and provide you with a list of the current synods participating and the names of the connectors. If your synod is not participating, you are encouraged to contact your Synod Bishop through your pastor and ask for a Centurion Connector. Synods are being added routinely especially after the unanimous approval from the ELCA Triennial Assembly in support of Veterans through the Centurion Connections and other ways mentioned in this article.
Put up a banner in front of your congregation’s facilities. Advertise locally that you are seeking to be a safe place of help for veterans, active and retired. Have your pastor provide a name and contact information of what your congregation does to support service personnel so that information can be forwarded to chaplains and service persons. The ways to let people know that here is a place of help is endless.
God’s work in supporting veterans is being accomplished by our hands when we take the initiative to make things happen from the grassroots up. Give us a call or email me at PastorScottie@LCOSavior.org so we can highlight what you are doing on this website.