Reflection: Military Chaplaincy: Numbers and Testimony

This week, a new post by the Rev. Stephen Boyd, Minister for Chaplains and Ministers in Specialized Settings, and Ecclesiastical Endorser, a member of the Ministerial Excellence, Support, and Authorization (MESA) Ministry Team in the national setting of the UCC.

In these challenging times, the Endorsement Office of the United Church of Christ finds itself stretched as we work to serve the many men and women who are looking into ministry in specialized settings, those ministerial settings beyond the Local Church. Ecclesiastical Endorsement may come through a Committee on Ministry for certification by a professional organization or as a recommendation by the COM to the endorser for ministry with a government agency. The Ecclesiastical Endorser for the UCC works with ministers who are interested in becoming chaplains for our nation’s military, in addition to VA chaplains and chaplains serving in the Federal Prison system. An endorsement for chaplaincy in government service or for professional agencies can only be granted to an ordained minister, not to a Member in Discernment or an individual with Lay Ministerial Standing.

Currently, the Ecclesiastical Endorser works to accession ministers into the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The needs are great as the demography and the composite of our nation’s Armed Services is changing radically. The United Church of Christ endorses 50-55 military chaplains – men and women who have decided to serve in the military as chaplains, ministering to the needs of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coasties as well as their families. These ministers offer an incredibly difficult pastoral role day in and day out. They represent the United Church of Christ and are dedicated to serve with integrity and faithfulness to the UCC Core Values. Our nation’s service members find themselves in some of the most challenging, difficult and vulnerable times of their lives and chaplains are called upon to step in, to guide, to counsel and console.

Source: http://www.pixabay.com

UCC military chaplains find themselves in some of the most thought-provoking and difficult times as they are called to provide and perform ministry to all service members and their families in what is now a very demanding ministry landscape. Today chaplains are called to minister in a highly diverse and pluralistic environment. This diversity not only includes service members with a variety of religious, and no religious beliefs, but also providing ministry to our LGBT neighbors who are serving their country’s military. As one of the few denominations to ordain women and can openly serve the LGBT community, the need for qualified UCC military chaplains is especially great. Women service members and our LGBT service members find it difficult to find and secure pastoral counsel that respects their lives and holds their confidences. As a former Army chaplain, I find this shameful as the diversity within the ranks of the Army, Air Force and Navy is growing and the need for a good, gifted and professional ministerial presence increases daily.

More and more, chaplains are faced with issues of Post-Traumatic Stress, Moral Injury, family separation and spiritual care at the end of life. It is a challenging, rich and rewarding ministerial setting and not everyone is cut out for it.  But, hopefully, more and more of our ministers and ministerial candidates will entertain the possibility of military service. In the years that I served, I met some of the most incredible, faithful and devoted men and women I had met in my over 34 years of ministry.  There is something to be said about going one on one with someone when they are half a world away from their family and loved ones. Something can be said about the trust, the vulnerability and the honesty of facing some of life’s most difficult moments with a person who is willing to trust you and willing to walk with you.

If you or someone you know may be considering a call to military chaplaincy, please be in touch with Rev. Stephen B. Boyd, Ecclesiastical Endorser for the United Church of Christ at boyds@ucc.org.

No Car No Gun

Over the past five years, the congregation that I serve has experienced one suicide per year. They only have 180 members. In my church, the suicide rate is 1 out of 180 every year. Why is that?

Research indicates two main contributing factors:

I remember one church member who had a lifelong career in law enforcement. As his dementia grew worse, he got angrier and angrier at his wife who was his main caregiver. One day he shot her as well as himself to death.

Another church member is – at least to my knowledge – not diagnosed with a mental health problem. But his wife as the primary caregiver is concerned about his passion for his rifle, shotgun, and pistols. At one point, church volunteers were able to help the wife secure the weapons. But by now, he has gained access again and her anxiety is on the rise again.

What these two men have in common is that both had given up driving a long time ago. In their 80ies, they simply were not fit enough to operate machinery that can endanger lives at a significant scale. I wish their families had used that time to also have the gun talk. I propose the following policy for families, caregivers, religious institutions, healthcare providers and anybody who helps manage the lives of senior citizens:

NO CAR NO GUN
Or: when it’s time for grandpa to give up the truck, he also needs to give up the rifle.

This is not an infringement upon second amendment rights. Obviously, there is no age limit on constitutional rights but this is a voluntary action. Gun owners usually are concerned about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. Those difficult conversations occur around driving when it does not appear safe anymore. Firearms like motor vehicles have the potential to cause significant harm to the user and the people around them. When you have the “car talk” with a loved one, it is good practice to also ask them to surrender their guns.

New beginnings

On Easter Sunday 2014 by unanimous vote of the congregation I got elected to be the new pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Rosenberg. For the following five years we have done some great things together. We started a new Children Church’s program, we took on the sole responsibility for Vacation Bible School which we used to share with our Presbyterian and Brethren friends. We invited the German language community to a variety of annual events. Family ministry expanded its outreach activity by not only bringing communion to members in long-term care facilities but actually hosting all-facility worship services there. I was blessed to baptize and confirm your children, to get couples started into their married lives, and to lead funerals for those whose time had come. There has been some amazing forward movement and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve alongside all of y’all here for five years.

Honestly, we have not sustained our progress over the last couple of years. That’s why I decided to step aside. St. John’s responds well to new pastoral leadership coming in. You are good at building excitement about a fresh start. I hope you will do that again and make it to the next level in your congregational development. There was a reason church council decided to publish my letter of resignation. We wanted to get ahead of the rumor mill. That worked for the most part. The top two most awkward rumors that have come to my attention since were:
– St. John’s is closing its doors
– Rev. Haas is going back to Germany

I don’t have that kind of power. My resignation can hardly shut down a congregation that has existed since 1941. Quite the opposite: Your church leadership is hard at work coordinating with the Houston Association as well as the South Central Conference to plot a path into a prosperous future for this congregation. I am not going anywhere but I am delighted that I have the opportunity to continue ministry locally as a full-time chaplain for Compassus Hospice. Mirjam continues her thriving pastorate at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Needville, and our kids get to keep their familiar environment of home, neighborhood, school, and sports.

I have consistently received a lot of praise for my weekly reflections. I will miss writing them. This is my last one for St. John’s. The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Resurrecting Hope an Easter Message

by Rev. John C. Dorhauer General Minister and President

I walk through the world, opening myself up to the daily vagaries of life’s unanticipated joy and sorrows. I find myself grateful for a faith that orients itself around one foundational belief: resurrection.

Death did not destroy Jesus. That is my grounding fundament. Like every disciple of the risen Christ, I hear and take to heart the words of Paul who wrote that because of Him “we do not grieve as others who have no hope.” (I Thess. 4.13).

To be sure, we grieve.

We worry.

We fear.

We grow anxious.

We are not immune from any of these powerful and life-altering emotions. In the face of what life can throw our way, we too will succumb to experiences that mitigate our joy. Death, disease, hunger, poverty, injustice, fear, warfare, oppression, famine, natural disaster, climate disruption, political crisis, mass shootings all have their way with us. They consume our attention.

They steal our joy.

They strip us of some of the happiness and pleasure that would otherwise be ours but for the sufferings we endure in their presence and aftermath.

There is one thing, though, they cannot do: destroy our hope. The simple belief that death did not contain Jesus grounds us firmly in the horizons of hope. It is perhaps the singular vocational responsibility of the Church, the Living Body of Christ: to procure hope in the face of life’s most disruptive and destructive forces.

Hope calls us to play the long game.

The long game of hope believes that the wars in Yemen and Syria can end.

The long game of hope believes that peace between Israel and Palestine can come.

The long game of hope believes that our children and grandchildren will again breathe clean air.

The long game of hope believes that the immigrant and the refugee, the strangers and aliens in our midst, will find a new home and be greeted with hospitality and freed from the cages they’ve been placed in.

The long game of hope believes that entire cities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique and farms in the Midwest destroyed by floods can be rebuilt.

The long game of hope believes that colonial empires can see more joy in restoring equity through reparations than in hoarding wealth accumulated on the backs of enslaved black bodies and displaced indigenous communities.

The long game does not see death as our destiny. It believes that though suffering may endure for the night, joy cometh in the morning. Some new dawns may not arrive as early as others, but we do not lose hope that new dawns are ever before us.

This is where my Easter joy is found: the orientation of hope. It is found in the beating heart of every disciple of Jesus who, once again, will rehearse the remarkable story of his rising from the dead. The miracle of hope in the heart is my Easter joy.

May it be yours as well.

Rev. John C. Dorhauer

Where is your Ground Zero?

Yesterday was one of those days where we had the TV turned to the news for hours. The cathedral of Notre Dame was engulfed in flames. We visited just this past summer and now the place is in ruins. Glued to the TV, I was taken back to September 11, 2001. Is this a terrorist attack? If so, was there going to be a follow up attack? Is the Eiffel Tower next? None of that that happened. Nobody claimed responsibility. While I’m writing these lines, everything points toward an accident.

Somehow this fire struck a nerve, not only with me but at least the people I am connected to on social media. #NotreDame was trending on Twitter and still is. What is so important about this church in a country half a globe away? Three churches burnt much closer to home “on March 26, April 2 and April 4. The first was at St. Mary Baptist Church in the Port Barre; the two others were at Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the small city of Opelousas, the parish seat. “

More than anything, France, with its history of absolute monarchy, perfected the centralization of state power, authority and administration. Everything in France focuses on Paris. Wherever you drive on French highways, signs will show you the distance to Paris. That’s where Notre Dame plays an even more special role. The precise point the distance is measured from is called “Kilometre Zero ” and it is located right in front of the entrance of Notre Dame Cathedrale.

Notre Dame is literally Ground Zero. So it’s okay to leave the TV on for longer than usual. But it raises an important question: Where is your Ground Zero? It’s good to know that about yourself. The three churches that burnt in Louisiana where “black” churches that were specifically targeted by a racist. This injustice cries to the heavens. Where the margins of justice are violated, people cry out. When orientation gets lost, like the one point an entire era focused on, people get irritated. Those so-called world affairs always have a deeply personal effect. They trigger something in you and me and I invite you to think that through and talk about it.

Funeral Service for Delores Hartfiel Wleczyk

Funeral Services for Delores Hartfiel Wleczyk will be on Friday, April 12th at 1:00 p.m. at Garmany & Carden Funeral Home located at 1201 Fourth Street in Rosenberg. Viewing will be Thursday, April 11th from 6:00-8:00 p.m. A reception will follow the service and interment on Friday at St. John’s United Church of Christ in the Parish Hall.

Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Holy Week Worship Schedule

Jesus said the temple would be torn down. Jesus got into trouble with those who were in power – both in religion and politics. If you want to hold on to power, Holy Week is not for you. The beautiful sanctuary that has served the people for generations will be destroyed. Grandparents and great-grandparents were proud founding families and everyone had a story to tell, whose ancestor laid which stone and made such and such contributions. Access to this sacred space was strictly limited by cast and influence, and money. If you are not here to bring your tithe, what are you here for then? Pay up or go home.

Jesus came to Jerusalem and right from the start he didn’t fit in. He was supposed to come as the mighty king who re-establishes King David’s glory – with class and power and authority. Instead Palm Sunday is the celebration of a rag tag bunch of underdogs sneaking into the city on the poor side of town. Please join us for this humble experience on Sunday, April 14th at 10 am.

Church is not a place for the strong. Remember how Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” The people who come to church know that they mess up. They are the ones who understand that they can’t get it all right. We fail. We are the communion of saints, not the communion of the perfect. We gather in holy imperfection. Join us for a sinful meal on Maundy Thursday, April 18th at 6pm. The church council will provide appetizer and main course. You are invited to share desserts.

This week before holy week, our congregation has two funerals. Death is a constant companion in our lives. Good Friday stands as a powerful reminder for that. God Almighty has not shied away from the gruesome experience of human dying. God has experienced the pain and agony and loss just like we do. That’s what Good Friday is all about when we retell the story of Jesus’s crucifixion. Join us for lunch on Good Friday, April 19th at 11:15, followed by the service at noon.

The tables in parish hall are decorated with Easter bunnies. They are a symbol of life. Easter is the hope that death does not have the final say. That is best expressed through symbols like bunnies and eggs. Bunnies produce new life quickly. Eggs look like dead rocks rolled in front of the grave but eventually a little beak comes out announcing new life. Join us for the celebration of resurrection joy on Easter Sunday, April 21st for breakfast and egg hunt at 9 am, followed by the service at 10 am.

Funeral Service for Nelda Gutowsky

It is with sadness to announce the death of Nelda Gutowsky. Funeral Services will be on Wednesday, April 10th at 10:00 a.m. at St. John’s United Church of Christ with viewing for family and friends on Tuesday, April 9th 5:00-7:00 p.m. also at St. John’s UCC.

Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.