Written by Anthony Moujaes
The United Church of Christ is known for inclusivity and extravagant welcome. A group of UCC congregations in Northeast Ohio want churches to be more intentional with that extravagant welcome expressed for United States veterans through compassionate care and friendly support for the men and women returning home and adjusting to civilian life.
A resolution from six congregations, set to go before General Synod delegates, asks UCC congregations to extend "compassionate care and healing ministry to our veterans" as they readapt to society at the conclusion of their military service. The UCC’s General Synod 2013 takes place from June 28 through July 2 in Long Beach, Calif.
"As the United States military continues to be engaged in conflicts around the world, most, if not all, of our congregations have been touched by returning veterans and their families," said the Rev. Stephen Boyd, UCC minster for UCC minister for chaplains and specialized minsters. "This resolution attempts to address the price that our men and women pay in service to our nation and recognizes the communal responsibility to welcome them home and into our congregations. Through sensitivity, education and development of resources it calls the church to offer the kind of spiritual healing and care that only the faith community can through 'deep listening,' worship and liturgy."
Boyd points to two areas of consideration for the resolution: First, the recent work of the Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock on moral injury, and second, the increasing suicide rates among current and former military personnel.
"I spent time with [Brock] last week talking about helping veterans when they return," said Boyd. "The congregation is one of the best places to work with veterans on reintegrating into civilian life. Congregations can be friends to our veterans and take responsibility to welcome them."
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. At General Synod 2013, Brock will be one of the theological reflectors who will speak about both the theological and business aspects at the conclusion of each plenary session. She advocates a "social responsibility as people who live in this land to make [the return home for veterans] as effective and life-giving as possible."
Moral injury results from having to make difficult moral choices under extreme conditions, witnessing immoral acts, or behaving in ways that profoundly challenge one’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. It is one of several psychological effects that can result from engaging in combat. Since 2010, the National Association of Mental Illness reports there are about 18 suicides by veterans daily and 950 attempted suicides monthly. There were more suicides by U.S. military personnel in 2012 (349 total) than there were American combat deaths in Afghanistan (295), according to National Public Radio.
In addition to asking congregations to express care and healing for veterans, the resolution also encourages compassion rooted in faith instead of patriotism, and to help veterans reclaim their place in a community and support their families.
The resolution states that veterans and their families "are members of our faith communities as well as our neighbors. Military service changes the individual as well as the family. … The [c]hurch is called to bring in to awareness the needs of those who served and their families, as well as the effects of war on the wider community."
The six Ohio congregations proposing the resolution are Trinity UCC (Akron), First Congregational Church (Tallmadge), First UCC (New Philadelphia), Grace UCC (Canton), St. John’s UCC (Glenmont) and St. John UCC (Strasburg).