As I return from Okinawa, Japan and meeting and teaching with our UMC military Chaplains stationed in the Far East, I am ever grateful for the ministry that they provide. Like everyone else, the military has had to suffer cutbacks, and many of the Chaplains have to do more with less personnel and resources. The number of people they serve has increased, with fewer Chaplains assigned and added responsibilities.
Because of the wide diversity of faith traditions in our military, they have to come with creative solutions if for example, they do not have a Jewish Rabbi or Buddhist Priest available in their area and have soldiers from those faith traditions. Oftentimes they have to be creative in assigning and supervising lay volunteers when they don’t have a Chaplain from a specific faith tradition.
Our United Methodist Chaplains are one of the most prized by the military leadership because they can serve such a wide variety of people. In other words, the “big tent” of United Methodism means that our Chaplains aren’t limited to serve a narrow spectrum of faith perspectives, but can serve almost any of our service men and women.
I found these Chaplains to be bright, articulate and extremely competent. They know what it means to be out in the mission fields because they don’t have existing church buildings to bog down their ministries. It is exactly what we are looking for in our annual conference clergy: that ability to engage their mission fields and not stay located within the four walls of the church building.
However, they suffer from the inherent bias of extension ministries that are removed from the annual conference: “out of sight, out of mind.” Often, they and their families are forgotten about, and instead of being welcomed home after leaving the military, they must start at the bottom of the appointment ladder, forced to prove themselves in a church setting when they have been doing what we need all of our clergy to be doing right now: engaging their surrounding mission fields.
I realize that there are no easy solutions to our complex church systems, and the Chaplain corps, like all of us possess great and mediocre leadership. However, I believe we can do better when it comes to recognizing our military Chaplains, and providing greater ministry opportunities for them when they return. They and their families make greater sacrifices for their country and for us than we can imagine, and they deserve better than what the church is presently giving.
As one of the Chaplains reminded me: “We do this job, not just for service to our country, but it is a calling from God first and foremost, and our sacrifices are part of that calling.”
I for one am deeply grateful…
Be the Hope,