JUSTPEACE and Reaching Vets

A coordinating body of the United Methodist Church, JUSTPEACE, offered an important conference on Trauma Healing and Welcoming Returning War Vets. It was April 1 and 2 in Nashville. In the midst of the blooming red buds and dogwood, we gathered at the Board of Discipleship. "We" were clergy, military chaplains, a host of veterans, many of Vietnam, some of Desert Storm, a few lay persons and even an active bishop.

There was an amazing amount of theological reflection on and physiology of trauma presented the first day with Dr. Shelly Rambo, professor at Boston University, followed by a morning of overcoming various barriers to effectively reaching vets with Navy Chaplain Bender. The closing session featured a panel with two vets (one a D.S. and the other a Chaplain), a conflict resolution mediator with JUSTPEACE, and a leader of a Veteran's group. Many from the gathering spoke of their own experience and recovery from traumatic (though non-military) events.

With the quality and the depth this seminar provided, there was no silver bullet promised, no blueprint for a successful vets ministry. Some networking was done, but mostly it was seeing our warriors differently. For a church to pick up this kind of ministry, it will take a long term commitment in order to establish trust with vets and families. It means learning military language. It will require time, attention, and showing up for them, being present at their important events.

You could probably start with the veterans you already have in your congregation, since the returnees are already more comfortable with those who have been here. If you're a pastor and a vet, then you have a tremendous gift to offer those who are re-entering a new civilian life.

For a long time, our churches have recognized veterans on the patriotic Sundays, etc. Obviously it's time to go beyond singing songs and cheering publicly to saying thank you in more personal ways. God's call is where the world's deep need and your gifts and experiences meet. The healing from war trauma is a deep need, to be sure. The gift of our own healing from trauma can be offered- a sort of learned compassion- for those possessed by the ravages of PTSD. This conference was invitation to hear that call and begin that journey.

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