|United Methodist military chaplains gather in Nashville|
By Sandra Brands*
Oct. 10, 2006
|A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
An Army chaplain's cap, topped with a cross, rests on a table.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) -- Members of the military who served in Iraq are
welcomed home, but they often find their homes are not the same, said a
seminary professor at a gathering of United Methodist military chaplains.
"The church should make sure returning military find homes," said M. Douglas
Meeks, the Cal Turner Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies at
Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. Meeks spoke about what it means to
be a United Methodist chaplain, the public expression of religion, just war
theory and the Catholic-Evangelical heritage of United Methodists.
The Sept. 22-24 gathering was sponsored by the United Methodist Board of
Higher Education and Ministry. Retired Bishop Robert Fannin of Lakeland,
Fla., and Saul Espino, a board executive, planned the event.
The group included 51 active and reserve United Methodist chaplains serving
in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Veterans Affairs.
Participants ranged in experience from a seminarian to retired colonels.
"We are in a more religious time than ever," Meeks said. He noted that we
hear references to God everywhere, but he asked, "Which God are we talking
Answering his own question, he said: "We name God by naming Jesus."
Meeks noted the difficulties of getting people who disagree to come to a
common table. He suggested the chaplains tell stories and publicly live out
The Rev. Patricia Barrett, assistant general secretary of the board and
supervisor of the endorsing team, said the gathering provided the chaplains
with an opportunity to learn from and to support one another.
The Rev. Patricia Barrett
"This gathering was a powerful reminder that these chaplains are ministering
in wartime, caring for those in harm's way while they are themselves in
harm's way. Wartime ministry is spiritually, intellectually and physically
challenging, and we are committed to providing the resources to care for and
equip our chaplains in spirit, mind and body," Barrett said.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with United Methodist
colleagues from across the service branches," said the Rev. Karen Meeker,
Calling cards appreciated
Chaplains and their families applauded local churches that supported them
during deployments. Chaplains gave servicemen and women more than 9 million
minutes' worth of phone cards contributed by churches.
The Rev. Tom Carter, a retired Army chaplain, preached Sept. 23. Carter, the
interim director of endorsement at the board and a veteran of 28 years,
charged the chaplains not only to feed the poor and tend to the sick, but to
offer in word and deed the eternal hope found in Christ.
Later that morning, the clergy formed two groups to discuss the challenges
and opportunities of being United Methodist military chaplains. The two
groups discussed ways in which chaplains can minister to people of all
One group noted that chaplains face a challenge of relating back to the
local churches. A proposed solution was to ask local churches to adopt
chaplains and their families.
Bishop Robert E. Fannin
At the closing worship, Bishop Fannin spoke of serving two years in the
demilitarized zone in Korea. He also described visiting a Rwandan war zone
as a bishop. After a harrowing ride dodging bullets, he arrived at a church
in the middle of a combat area. Bishop Fannin said he found an undeniable
hope in a Rwandan congregation packed with believers in the risen Christ.
He said their songs were not ones of despair. They knew God's "eye is on the
sparrow" and that God cared for them, he said. "In the midst of life's
darkest corners of this world," the bishop said, "chaplains bring this hope
and light to those in oppression."
*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation,
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, (615) 742-5470 or
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United Methodist Endorsing Agency
United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry