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Jan 27 2014

Ministry Outreach with Veterans of War

Since Karen Peterson and I returned from “The Journey Home from War” workshop at Eastern Mennonite University in September, a Veterans Ministry Team has formed, with the intent of building a mission outreach to war veterans in our surrounding community. We want to establish a safe and welcoming community for veterans and all that they bring. We do this in the belief that the good news of God’s saving, healing love has particular relevance to those who have experienced war. Many carry wounds of body and soul. The transition home can be very challenging for soldiers and their families. The end of combat is not the end of the war experience. Additionally, war often creates a crisis of faith.

Initially, we set out to do an inventory of what kind of resources are available for veterans in our region, including health and therapeutic resources, support groups, Vet centers, and congregations reaching out to vets. Post-traumatic stress and soul wounds (also referred to as “moral injury”) are very common among returning soldiers. Roger Kessler, a newly elected Elder in our congregation, is a war veteran who has helped our congregation understand the journeys and needs of war veterans. Roger has been instrumental in connecting with, among others, the American Legion and The Veterans Administration. We have identified local resources and practitioners who are equipped to provide service and make appropriate referrals. I have been active in reaching out to other communities of faith and faith-based initiatives. We hope to encourage a network of supports, vital resources, and faith communities that are welcoming and prepared. We also are committed to the education of those communities, clergy and pastoral teams, and people throughout our area about the needs of veterans and ways to actively respond. The social contract implicit when people serve the nation in the military has been broken repeatedly in the moral disengagement of the populace during wartime and the compounded failure to attend to the real needs of veterans when they return home. We believe in taking corporate responsibility for the well-being of those who have been sent into battle in our name; in the church, this would be a dimension of “covenant”. We believe that all of us — whether we are pacifist or those of the “just war” tradition, or whether we support a particular war or not — can unite in such an effort.

The church and its pastoral ministry are particularly equipped to contribute to the healing journeys of veterans in ways that move beyond the capacities of clinical resources, particularly when it comes to issues and wounds of the soul, relationship with God, forgiveness, reconciliation, and spiritual health. We want to be able to offer pastoral and congregational care for veterans of all ages. The church has worship; sacrament; liturgies of healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation; spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, confession, meditation, submission, service; spiritual direction and discernment; the depth of relationship that covenant community is equipped to offer. These resources are essential for all of us in the faith community.

The amount of networking we have been able to do in a short time has been a wonderful surprise. We have a growing relationship with Rev. Chris Antal, a military chaplain who served in Afghanistan, and who is the Director of Faith Community Development for the Soldier’s Heart organization based in Troy, NY. It is our intention to partner with Soldier’s Heart; this partnership will equip us to grow in our capacities. Four members of our Ministry team will be training with Chris at the Cranaleith Retreat Center in February as he equips and empowers teams of clergy and lay leaders to draw from the unique resources of our respective traditions to tend to the soul wounds that can result from war and military service.

We also have a solid contact with Warrior’s Journey Home in Ohio, a ministry centered from a UCC congregation with a strong affiliation to Soldier’s Heart. We hope, like them, to be able to host “Healing Circles” that are deeply enriched by Vets helping Vets in care and accompaniment. We have discovered that there are a number of people, organizations, and faith groups involved in important efforts, as well as a strong desire from veterans and families. There is a need for establishing a strong, inter-connective network. So what we are doing is both, (1) establishing a site for vital ministry at St. Andrew’s, and (2) helping to establish the larger network of services, supports, and communities reaching far beyond ourselves.

We plan to host a “stakeholders” meeting in 2014, most likely in the Spring, after initial training and some on-going preparation. If you are interested in participating in this effort, talk to any of the present members of our team: Karen Peterson, Roger Kessler, Judy Koenig, Phil Yost, or Pastor Scott.

Pastor Scott's Signature

Pastor Scott’s Archived Messages