...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Monday, April 6, 2009

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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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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