Congregational Care for Vets
by Darrell Morton
Every day familiar strangers are returning to our communities across the country from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are familiar because they may be people you've known for years, maybe church members or even family members. They may be strangers as well because events during their absence have changed them, sometimes in ways not visibly discernable, and sometimes physically obvious. The reality is that war changes people.
And so what are we, as followers of Jesus, to do when these "strangers" show up at our doors? How do we live out the implications of, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me"?
In 2008 the ELCA, supported by Thrivent funds, sponsored the development of a workshop for pastors, caregivers, and any others who desire to help create a welcoming and caring place for those who return from war and their families. Those workshops were a response to a resolution the 2007 Churchwide Assembly passed overwhelmingly:
To urge all congregations and other expressions of the ELCA to provide a welcoming and supporting environment for returning military veterans and further urge the Conference of Bishops to partner with the ELCA Bureau for Federal Chaplaincy Ministries to explore means by which this church might effectively provide healing ministries to military veterans and their families.
The focus of the workshops is on providing an introduction to the military culture for those who have had little or no experience in that world, and in what ways we can expect that our returning veterans have been affected by exposure to war. In that context, the questions addressed include:
— How might we as communities of Christian believers receive those hurt by war?
— What resources are available to assist our caring ministries?
The scheduled workshops have been completed, but synods and congregations may schedule local workshops through the ELCA Bureau for Federal Chaplaincy Ministries, by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-822-6414.
Darrell Morton, an ELCA pastor, is the assistant to the Presiding Bishop for Federal Chaplaincy Ministries, Washington, D.C. To find out more about the federal chaplaincies, including military, go to the ELCA Bureau for Federal Chaplaincy Ministries website.
This article appeared in the May / June 2009 issue of Lutheran Partners (vol. 25, no. 3).