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Churches challenged to look beyond 'yellow ribbon'

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
June 11, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)     


A yellow ribbon adorns the altar candle at Hinesville (Ga.) First United Methodist Church. A United Methodist task force has developed resources to help congregations support deploying and returning service members. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

A significant number of the 1.5 million soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan will return from battle suffering from mental health problems, a study says.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of soldiers likely will need mental health screening or treatment, according to a report recently presented to the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

A United Methodist task force has compiled resources to help local congregations reach out to service members in their churches and communities.

Among the resources is an article from the Rev. John Morris, deputy state chaplain of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

"The road home from war is longer, steeper and often more challenging than the road to war for most soldiers and their families," Morris writes in "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon: How Churches Can Help Soldiers and Their Families Readjust After Combat."

Also included are liturgies written by the Rev. Laura J. Bender, a Navy chaplain, to send soldiers off to war and welcome them back home. (See "Liturgies provide comfort, support to service members.")

The packet was developed by a task force of the United Methodist boards of Church and Society and Higher Education and Ministry. A letter from the agencies' top executives, Jim Winkler and the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, also thanks congregations for their support of the United Methodist Endorsing Agency's phone card program.

"The main focus for the past four years of the United Methodist Endorsing Agency has been the phone card program in support of deployed service members," the letter states. "Your congregations have provided over 11 million phone card minutes for service members to maintain contact with their families and loved ones. This expression of support for our service members in harm's way is deeply appreciated."

Chaplains and deployed pastors

Recognizing that chaplains and deployed pastors are among those needing denominational and congregational support, the packet includes guidelines for bishops, cabinets, chaplains and congregations in case of the mobilization and deployment of guard and reserve pastors.

Chaplains and pastors are both spiritual care providers and ministers. Both are ordained and connected to annual (regional) conferences.


A Blackhawk helicopter lands to extract soldiers near Tall Afar, Iraq. A study says a significant number of soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan will return home with mental health problems. A UMNS photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey.  

In a gathering of active and retired military chaplains held in February in Nashville, pastors spoke of the challenges of deployment both personally and for congregations.

Chaplains retiring from military service often encounter problems returning to local congregations. At the same time, congregations don't always know how to deal with pastors suddenly called away from the pulpit for extended periods.

Questions arise around pensions, housing, appointments and family and emotional issues.

The United Methodist Endorsing Agency, part of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, maintains endorsement for approximately 400 United Methodist pastors serving as military chaplains.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the number and length of deployments have increased the burdens on families and churches. Mobilization for active duty and deployments are ranging from 90 days to 18 or more months.

The deployments create challenges for church leadership and congregations along with reintegration issues for families and churches due to post-traumatic stress from combat or prolonged separation.

Guidelines provided by the endorsing agency look at questions such as: Does mobilization change a pastor's relationship with the annual conference? How long may a chaplain be mobilized? Should the family be allowed to live in the parsonage if the pastor is deployed?

The guidelines also suggest ways to care for families and pastors at each stage of mobilization and deployment.

"The church can provide a very unique ministry in helping combat veterans and their families," Morris said. "With understanding comes the opportunity to minister."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio Feature

Supporting Service Members


Army Chaplain Captain Jay West

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