How Local Congregations Can Support Those in the Military
Editor’s note: With the announcement of the retirement of military phone cards, several IGRC congregations are wanting to continue a supportive ministry to the uniformed personnel. Rev. Phillips offers some suggestions in the following column.
United Methodists have a rich tradition of honest, principled differences regarding issues of war and peace in our nation. What is gratifying is the unity in providing spiritual support for those who serve in the military and their families. Only one major military installation is located within the boundaries of our conference, but occasions to minister to those who serve are not diminished.
In our congregations are the children and grandchildren of those on active duty or married to those who serve. In addition, thousands of United Methodists serve in the Reserves and the National Guard, which now often includes activation for extended duty overseas. Beyond our congregations, our local communities include numerous reserve units that face deployments and stresses but lack the support available to those who live on or near military bases.
How can our churches minister effectively and faithfully to those who serve, to their families, and to the United Methodist chaplains who are our presence in Christ to these young men and women? Every church in our conference, regardless of size, can make a difference. Here are some possibilities.
First, identify the local need and opportunity. Develop a list of those related to the church who are in the service, including members of the extended family. You may expand the list to include any local reserve units and friends of church members who serve. Develop a prayer list and keep the names before the congregation for intercession on a regular basis.
Second, be sure those connected to the military remain on the mailing list and receive all the newsletters that local members receive. Never, ever remove a service member from the rolls while they are on active duty, except at their request. An annual brief note of support and affirmation from the pastor or the lay leader can mean a lot to personalize the contact. Encouraging (but not bullyragging) the service member to find a spiritual home in their current location is fine to do, while affirming that those in their home church keep them in prayer.
Third, ask what they need and respond. The family of the active member can ask the specific question and bring the replies back to the church. While the general church phone card program has ended due to improved means of communication, other needs remain. Alton Main Street and Peoria First have sent toys for Marines to distribute to children in Fallujah, DVDs for Sailors on a cruiser in the Far East, sweaters and clothes to Air Force personnel in Afghanistan, and emptied Peoria of jellybeans when a chaplain at Guantanamo said the troops really missed jellybeans.
Fourth, consider a special offering to the United Methodist Endorsing Agency (UMEA), which provides care and support for our chaplains and their families. This includes retreats for those who have been in combat, continuing education, and immediate pastoral assistance in times of crisis.
Fifth, consider ‘adopting’ a United Methodist chaplain. This includes a commitment to prayer for the chaplain’s ministry and family, and contact to see what particular needs the people in that chaplain’s unit have that the church might assist in meeting. This can include chaplains within the annual conference but the UMEA can provide points of contact for active duty chaplains of all branches and conferences whose ministries can be affirmed and supported by a church adoption.
Finally, don’t lose interest. Polls indicate the nation gives Afghanistan and Iraq a back seat in interest to the economy. While understandable, our Christian witness cannot allow culture to shrug off the 150,000 Americans serving, as you read this article, in those two locations, plus their families and the other million service members serving around the nation and the world. When a young soldier or Marine is riding on a convoy through a dangerous land, knowledge that their risk of life truly matters to the church, irrespective of politics, can be deeply reassuring.