|Churches challenged to look beyond 'yellow ribbon'|
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
June 11, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supporting Service Members
Army Chaplain Captain Jay West
Liturgies provide comfort, support to service members
Chaplains: Church must support returning soldiers
Chaplains offer ideas, resources for churches
United Methodist phone cards bringing light to soldiers
Church campaign sends phone cards to soldiers
United Methodist Endorsing Agency
United Methodist Board of Church and Society
Write to a soldier