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.

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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.