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Pastor gives churches ideas for supporting troops

Irene Dowden cares for children in her Fort Campbell, Ky., home. Child
care is a primary need for military families with a deployed spouse.
A UMNS photo by Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez.

By Vicki Brown*
July 30, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

When the Rev. LeNoir Culbertson was appointed pastor of Madison Street United Methodist Church, just a few miles from Fort Campbell, Ky., she thought churches probably needed to have special programs for military families.

Up to one third of the 600 active members of her Clarksville, Tenn., congregation, near the home to the 101st Airborne Division, are related to the military.

But, Culbertson said, “I was told repeatedly, ‘We don’t want to be treated like military.’”

What she discovered was that many needs of a military family with a deployed member are similar to the needs of single parents. Providing child care for church programs, such as a Bible study or prayer groups, was important.

Kerry Mays, whose husband, Bryce, is deployed to Iraq with a medic unit, said that unlike single parents, military families often don’t have time to arrange for child care or other help. “My husband deployed in May, and we found out in April that he was leaving,” she said.

While the Army offers respite child care, Mays said it’s not Christian-based, and many parents feel there are too many children to be supervised well.

For parents with young children, child care is one of the most helpful services that a church could offer. “With your church family, you don’t have to worry that someone will use profanity, or say something you don’t want one of your children to hear,” Mays explained.

“Support groups are a wonderful idea, too,” she added. “You have a spouse you don’t know if you’ll see again, and you need someone to talk to, some type of system for moral support.”

Support to returning soldiers

Chaplain Lt. Col. Scott Weichl, behavioral health program manager at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., said he worries about the Reserve and National Guard soldiers who return to their communities after deployment and do not necessarily have support services available to active duty military.

“I think the churches could make a tremendous impact on Army Guard and Reserve soldiers,” Weichl added. “There is a wonderful opportunity for churches to partner with other organizations or the military to be able to do good.”

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Churches need to find out what needs military families have, said the Rev. Ron Lowery, the new superintendent for the Clarksville district. He hopes to set up zones based on the episcopal structure of the church so that there is a church to serve as a resource center about every 20 miles.

At Madison Street, many military families don’t want to be on prayer lists because they don’t want to advertise that a woman and children are living alone, Culbertson said.

But other types of lists come in handy. “We keep current a referral list of reliable … electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and mechanics, since people come into town and don’t know anyone,” she said.

On the spiritual side, “We try to offer programs and liturgy that are supportive of the military, but not flag waving, not saying that everything you do is the will of God.” 

*Brown is an associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Madison Street United Methodist Church

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United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry

Fort Campbell

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