The United Church of Christ is working to give military chaplains the tools they need to counsel and support those in service to our country suffering from moral injury. To do that, the church is centering a biennial training session around an expert on the subject, the Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, to help the chaplains better minister to the brave men and women who have sustained invisible wounds while serving in the armed forces.
There are also opportunities for rest and recreation during the four day training session, which is being held as a joint workshop for the first time with ecumenical partner, the Unitarian Universalist Association.
"We do them every other year, and in off years we invite chaplains to General Synod," said the Rev. Stephen Boyd, minister for chaplains and specialized ministers for UCC Local Church Ministries. "Part of inviting [Rita] was the response to the General Synod resolution on welcoming military personnel when they return."
The exercise will bring 32 chaplains and chaplain candidates from the UCC and the UUA together for training from April 22 to 26 in Albuquerque, N.M. Once there, Boyd and Nakashima Brock will work with the group on methods for counseling people with moral injury. The event is part of the continuing education that UCC-sponsored chaplains must obtain to keep their ecclesiastic endorsement from the denomination current.
Nakashima Brock is a theologian and writer on the faculty of Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, and is co-director of the school's Soul Repair Center. She attended General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif., where delegates passed a resolution calling on UCC congregations to welcome veterans. Boyd has worked closely with Nakashima Brock in the past, and believes that it has led to a "deepened connection with the Soul Repair Center" that will help lead the denomination's work in pastoring and welcoming military personnel.
This weekend, Brock's work on moral injury will help guide the chaplains with a series of lectures, discussions and workshops on ways to counsel those people for which a chaplain is responsible.
"Part of what they'll do is look at case studies of moral injury and work on counseling techniques, like her mechanism for deep listening with service men and women sharing their stories of trying to reintegrate with their family and society," Boyd said. "Moral injury is a new topic and in the forefront with men and women coming back from military service."
Moral injury results from having to make difficult moral choices under extreme conditions, witnessing immoral acts, or behaving in ways that challenge a person's conscience and identity. Conflicted individuals may feel survivor guilt, grief, shame, remorse, anger, despair, mistrust, and betrayal by authorities, which can linger after military service ends. It is one of several psychological effects that can result from engaging in combat, and is often confused with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a reaction to conditions that cause actual damage to brain tissue.
The training session is also a chance for chaplains to spend time with their families. Boyd's wife, Roberta, has planned events for about 10 chaplains' spouses and partners to discover Albuquerque.
"It lets us get an appreciation for what chaplains deal with, and to get to know the other spouses," Boyd said.
LCM is also arranging for the chaplains to visit the Soul Repair Conference in mid-July.