Honorable ideas for supporting military families
Up to one third of the 600 active members of her Clarksville, Tenn., congregation, near the home of the 101st Airborne Division, are related to the military. However, Culbertson said, "I was told repeatedly, 'We don't want to be treated like military.'"
She discovered many needs of a military family with a deployed member are similar to those of single parents. From her experience emerged several ideas for congregations located near military bases. As Culbertson learned, these hints also are adaptable for churches in ministry with single-parent families.
1. Provide childcare for church programs, such as a Bible study or prayer groups. Kerry Mays, whose husband Bryce is deployed to Iraq, said military families often do not have time to arrange for childcare or other help. "My husband deployed in May, and we found out in April that he was leaving," she said. "With your church family, you don't have to worry that someone will use profanity, or say something you don't want one of your children to hear."
2. Offer support groups for military spouses and children. "You have a spouse you don't know if you'll see again," Mays explained, "and you need someone to talk to, some type of system for moral support."
3. Offer support groups for returning troops, especially those who may be overlooked. Chaplain Lt. Col. Scott Weichl, behavioral health program manager at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., said he worries about the Reserve and National Guard soldiers who return to their communities after deployment and may lack support services available to active-duty military.
4. Collaborate with other organizations. "Churches could make a tremendous impact on Army Guard and Reserve soldiers," Weichl added. "There is a wonderful opportunity for churches to partner with other organizations or the military."
5. Assess needs of military families. The Rev. Ron Lowery, Clarksville District superintendent, hopes to set up zones based on the episcopal structure of the church so there is a church to serve as a resource center about every 20 miles.
6. Pray for military families, but do not put them on a special prayer list. That advertises that a spouse-often a woman-and children are living alone.
7. Keep a current list of reliable handypersons such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters and mechanics. Many military families "come into town and don't know anyone," Culbertson said.
8. Remember the spiritual side. "We try to offer programs and liturgy that are supportive of the military, but not flag waving, not saying everything you do is the will of God," Culbertson suggested.
--Adapted from a UMNS story by Vicki Brown, associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.