"But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself." Psalm 4:3a
The American Military Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg, where the remains of 5,076 are buried, most killed during the Battle of the Bulge in winter 1944-1945.
Faithfulness takes many forms. At times, it even leads men and women into war, when they consider war necessary to counter evil that is harming vulnerable people and countries.
"Freedom is never free," mused the Rev. Dorothy Brooks last year. "It always comes at a cost." But, she wondered, does the church make appropriate use of Memorial Day to remember those who died—or Veterans Day, to thank those veterans who fought—that we might live free?
A member of her congregation, Judy Adams, was thinking similar thoughts. Her father had served in Vietnam and she had just read in Tom Brokaw's book, "The Greatest Generation," that U.S. World War II veterans are dying at the rate of a thousand a day.
The result of their musings was a special worship service last November at First Congregational UCC in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"This was a service to say thank you," Brooks explains. "These men and women didn't go to war because they liked fighting. They went to war because they felt they owed it to their country. They did their duty."
On the morning of the service, each veteran was given a poppy. During the service, as Mark and Judy Adams—assisted by their teenage children, Lesley and Chris—read aloud the names of the veterans present, each one stood up, named the branch of the service in which he or she had served and remained standing. At the end, three women and 31 men stood, more than one-quarter of those present.
"It was very impressive," says Brooks, "and we and they felt very proud. Most had been in the second World War, although a few had served in Vietnam, a couple in Korea, and a Samoan-American from our sister church, First Samoan Congregational Christian UCC in Santa Rosa, had served in the Gulf War."
"It was a very emotional service," agrees the Rev. Robert Cramer, an Associate in Ministry at the church, "but it wasn't a flag-waving event. It got you both on the patriotic front and the faithfulness front. It worked really well, and a lot of people got affirmed and recognized who usually don't."
Early in her marriage, Brooks had faced the possibility that her own husband might be drafted and sent to Vietnam, even though she herself opposed that war.
"That's when I realized that meaninglessness is intolerable," she says. "Human beings in dire and stressful situations need to make sense of what is happening to them." During her sermon, Brooks developed this theme.
"The reality is," she told the congregation, "that in wars, as in our individual lives, we go forward doing the best we can under the circumstances, and only God has a truly omniscient perspective."
"We honor the veterans today because these men and women did a difficult job on behalf of others, and did it as faithfully and responsibly as they could," she said. "They have not asked for glory, but we give them our respect and our deep gratitude."
Following the service, the worshipers gathered in the church's Friendship Hall, where space had been made for the veterans' medals, photos and other memorabilia.
John Thomson was one who brought along his framed Purple Heart, for being wounded in European fighting, and his Bronze Star. Now 76, he was 18 when drafted in 1942.
"This service was very emotional for me," he says. "At the end of the war, when I was discharged from a hospital on the east coast, I just came home and tried to resume my life. This service was the first time that anyone had ever honored me."
After worship, other church members took great interest in examining the displays and asking questions of the veterans.
"It was a lively, lively coffee hour," says Thomson. "People wanted to spend time talking with us. It was really great. I felt completed."