The Rev. Christopher Laughlin (Army Reserve ELCA Chaplain) is translating Centurion Connectors into a lively and enjoyable support for military personnel through connecting congregations, cookies, and a concept of abounding grace. Pastor Laughlin was trying to wear his two hats of ministry as a Reserve Chaplain and a civilian pastor in a way to connect his reserve Soldiers and his civilian congregation. His bishop (the Rev. Dr. Craig A Satterlee) suggested his congregation bake cookies to give to his Soldiers. This initially turned into a great success, but went into overdrive when Chaplain Laughlin was mobilized to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for a year. Expanding the earlier idea of the cookies, Bishop Satterlee and Chaplain Laughlin invited synod congregations bake and send to basic trainees, drill sergeants, and support staff at Ft. Leonard Wood, the idea of grace grew with every dozen goodies.
“The response was overwhelming,” says Chaplain Laughlin. “At our annual assembly congregations signed up to send cookies every week to feed the soldiers.” This led to feeding their souls when the bishop’s office sold copies of the ELCA Armed Forces Prayer Book at assembly and suggested by Bishop Satterlee to be included with the cookies. Sales skyrocketed selling out all Prayer Book copies available and sending the bishop running for more. Soldiers were being fed both physically and spiritually with a sweet taste of truth and comfort in every package sent. Every week packages piled up for Chaplain Laughlin to share with a word of grace with basic training soldiers and his liturgical worship service he leads each week.
Chaplain Laughlin continues, “Pastors and congregations from inside and outside the synod continue to reach out to me to ask if they can sign up to send cookies and donate more books. When I send the reminders to the congregations and their pastor, I ask them to pray for specific Soldiers (with that Soldier’s permission), and the bishop encourages congregations to send notes to the Soldier, hand-written inside the Prayer Books.” The cookies, books, and prayer notes continue to flow in. Already these love gifts are touching lives; a Soldier recovering from cancer, a family struggling with separation issues, basic trainees from every American state and territory. Even the training staff and cadre are enjoying the outreach. Grace abounds where all are welcomed to God’s family.
Pastor/Chaplain Laughlin is running to keep up. “When congregations ask “how many cookies do you think will be enough,” I say, “3-5 dozen,” and the consistent response is “that’s all?” I reassure them that I will have enough Soldiers to eat all the cookies they send, no matter how many.” We will see.