“Thank you for your service!” As a service member, I heard this phrase frequently, especially while wearing my uniform. Even now as a veteran, numerous people who know of my service to country thank me. I am grateful for expressed appreciation.
This week we will honor our nation’s veterans. Veterans will be recognized during football game halftime shows. People will applaud returning warriors in airports. Businesses will offer free giveaways and discount meals to veterans. On Veterans Day, newspapers will have editorials distinguishing veterans as heroes. Veterans appreciate the good intentions of our nation’s citizens.
However, as much as we appreciate the gratitude expressed through the sentiment, “Thank you for your service”, veterans desire something more. We understand that admiration has been a stand-in for the impulse to do “something” for veterans. But, there is “something” more. Veterans desire community.
Why is this important? Veterans have encountered community in the military. We experience what is known as esprit de corp, or a unique bond between service members. This bond is often forged and made stronger through the experience of combat. In Iraq and Afghanistan we experienced a special cohesion as we endured together the sacrifice and the struggle of long, bitter, and difficult times.
Esprit de corps is also reflected in the customs and traditions of the military and its branches. It is virtually liturgical. The pastor may say “the Lord be with you” and the congregation responds with “and also with you”. In the military, a lower ranking member salutes a higher ranking individual in greeting and respect and the higher ranking individual returns the salute in greeting and recognition. We might stand for the reading of the Gospel, where the military member rises and comes to attention for the raising and lowering of the flag. It all contributes to establishing a common identity, standards of conduct, and marking rites of passage, which are a necessary part of establishing esprit de corps. There is a very special cohesion among the specific services as we live and work in community. Once a warrior separates from the military, they often lack community.
Like esprit de corps, the church has unique strengths and capacities for community:
- The church is open to hospitality by being a resource where the veteran and family feel to be a part of a social network, a family.
- Congregational spiritual practices, activities, and rituals create a climate of healing and communicate a sense of care to the veteran and his/her family. Whether a retreat, Bible study, special healing services, recognition service, or the use of the church calendar in developing liturgy, such as a Good Friday Service, contain powerful resources for hope and restoration.
- Members of the church can be a great resource. Walking with veterans and their families on healing journeys is means of justice, and what faith communities are about in ministry. As the church lives the liturgy throughout the church year they experience anew the powerful reassurance of God’s grace and presence in the lives of that faith community. As the church lives out these words, they learn to trust others, to bind the wounds of those hurting, and to grow in grace.
- The church provides the veteran opportunities for service. Serving others in need gives the veteran a connection beyond themselves.
How can the church be community to the veteran and family? The JustPeace Soul Care Initiative assists the church to:
- explore the specific needs of returning veterans and their families
- assess assets for its particular context
- provide awareness and education for churches on the challenges returning veterans and their families experience
- design mission and ministries in the cultivation of spiritual care and resiliency
- provide resources to welcome the veteran and family into the community
Our veterans live in our communities, they take their children to soccer games, others are our employees, some attend community college or university, others may be in hospice care or the hospital knowing they face their last days. If you desire to do “something” for a veteran other than saying thank you, let us get to know our veterans, let us welcome them into our community.
If your faith community has interest in any area of veteran spiritual care, please visit www.soulcareinitiative.org or contact us at email@example.com.