In service, chaplains remind soldiers of others' love and concern
Written by Carol L. Pavlik
August - September 2007
August 1, 2007

UCC Ministers serve in a variety of capacities — at U.S. military bases, hospitals and on foreign deployment.

This is the second in a two-part series, examining their different roles from a first-person perspective. Look back at the June-July issue to read more 'letters from chaplains.'

Chaplain Ronald A. Sparks is a staff chaplain with the U.S. Army Reserve in San Diego, who is awaiting movement orders for deployment to Al Anbar Province in Iraq.

THE THEOLOGICAL ISSUES chaplains address are critical to health, hope and healing. Hopefully, we can provide rational and realistic answers to the questions arising from the life and death experiences of our men and women who serve. Drawing on our own ability to be "wounded healers" is paramount to this effort. Our religious institutions can assist in this process by not repeating the Sin of Vietnam, which was "confusing the war with the warrior."

We need to honor the service and sacrifices of those who wear the uniform of our country even if we are opposed to the policies which have sent them into harm's way. We can engage in the many welcome home ceremonies, writing letters and sending care packages, and providing the necessary support to the families at home.

This, also, constitutes modeling of justice and peace. The UCC should seek ways to honor and recognize the many chaplains who minister to our young men and women in uniform. I view my calling as a chaplain to care for the fragments in a fragmented world.

The Rev. Nancy Dietsch is a chaplain at the VA Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio.

I HAVE LONG FELT that true healing with post-traumatic stress disorder could only  occur when all parts of an individual are addressed.

So often, it is limited only to the psychological and emotional dimension but, when it stops there, I believe that we only provide coping skills, not healing.

In my own journey, I found that I had to connect with the spiritual dimension and find ways to release the body memories that accompany the trauma.

Many affected by trauma "close their voices" because the trauma is too horrific to speak.

Their ability to draw from their spiritual resources is stunted because they have regressed in their faith to an earlier form of functioning.

I present James Fowler's faith development theory to the veterans involved in spirituality group, in order to enable them to see the different phases of functioning in one's spirituality.

To use their spirituality to help them heal, it is necessary for one to individuate his or her faith rather than accept a body of beliefs without question.

Captain Jane F. Vieira is a chaplain with the Naval Submarine School in Groton, Conn. Vieira writes of her most memorable Navy chaplain experience, following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when she designated as one of six chaplains to stand the night shift at the Pentagon disaster site.

CHAPLAINS WORKING at the Pentagon disaster site served in various capacities. We worked with recovery teams, at the mortuary, the decontamination tent, and the chaplain operations tent, providing pastoral support, critical incident stress defusion, and prayer.

Three chaplains served with each recovery team, whose job it was to recover human remains from the wreckage. Each body we recovered received three blessings from three chaplains. One was stationed inside the wreckage, a second at the base of the reefer (refrigerator) truck, and a third inside the reefer truck itself.

My post was inside the reefer truck along with a doctor, a nurse, an emergency medical technician, and two stretcher bearers.

The doctor opened each body bag, examined the remains and made the death pronouncement. We tried to bring as much honor and dignity to the dead as possible and treated each of the remains as sacred.

Since most bodies were charred beyond recognition and some contained only body parts, we didn't know for whom we were praying. All were treated equally with dignity and honor. Later I thought to myself we might even have blessed the terrorists.

The Rev. Harold G. Landwehr is a chaplain at the VA Medical Center in Marion, Ill.

OUR VETERANS COME FROM so many walks in life, and no matter how many men or women were among them during a battle, each holds a journey that is theirs alone.

Listening to their stories is a high point for me. Many veterans share them over and over, while some struggle to tell it, perhaps for the first time, in a way that frees them. Many veterans come to the hospital frequently, and look at the familiarity of the staff as an extended family.

I find that the chaplaincy gives comfort and camaraderie, providing hope and strength to these courageous people in difficult health situations. Veterans are very appreciative of the chaplaincy - many greet me as "Padre," flashing back to their earlier service days. They look to us with the trust they found from the chaplains who served, or are serving in our active military.

Chaplain Charles M. Purinton, Jr. is a lieutenant colonel with the Vermont Army National Guard in Colchester, Vt. Mobilized in January 2005 for training, he was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, from June 2005 until June 2006.

MY CALL to the chaplaincy is a response to the inclusiveness of the UCC. This ministry is an extension of my faith. I embrace it, not wrestle with it. I have been psychologically changed by what I have experienced, but not religiously, and I thank God my body is intact, as far as I know.

Most of my ministry in combat was counseling in the barracks and among the leadership, support to a medical company with a forward surgical team, and support to their mortuary affairs team. It is ministry in situations and among experiences of horror.

Prayer is absolutely the paramount priority — total faith and total prayer, with all my being.

Now I am ministering to veterans and their families. Their challenge is permanent change, keeping their vows of the past as the new people they are now. Adapting to new love.
 

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CONTACT INFO

Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org