MILITARY & ARMED FORCES

The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness To the House of Bishops Kanuga Conference Center Hendersonville, NC On March 12, 2013 Good afternoon. Jay Magness: Armed Services and Federal Ministries.

I want to use the next few minutes to update you on some things I am doing and in which my small staff and I are engaged. For the benefit of those of you who are new to the House, I was elected three years ago at the spring HOB meeting in Camp Allen, IAW Article II, Sec. 7. of The Constitution of TEC: "It shall be lawful for the House of Bishops to elect a... Bishop (Suffragan) who, under the direction of the Presiding Bishop, shall be in charge of the work of those chaplains in the Armed Forces of the United States, Veterans' Administration Medical Centers, and Federal Correctional Institutions who are ordained Ministers of this Church."

This is my episcopacy on federal lands in this and in foreign countries. Having been elected by the House, I make periodic reports to you on the ministry you have called me to do in support of my Priest/Chaplains who serve in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and in the (Federal) Bureau of Prisons. In the interest of time, let me tell you a story. In the 1970s I served at one of my first parishes which was in this county of this diocese. The parish, St. Paul's, is about 15 miles north east of here. St. Paul's is surrounded by some beautiful commercial apple orchards. In the autumn each year thousands of tourists frequent the area to buy apples and see the fruit laden trees.

On one warm sunny September afternoon a man and his wife from Atlanta in their long black Lincoln were driving past one of the local orchards when they saw a very peculiar sight: a farmer standing beneath an apple tree with a pig upon his shoulders which pig was eating apples off the limbs of the tree. At first the man and his wife passed by, but upon doing a double-take had to return to check out this strange sight. They pulled up beside the man with pig, rolled down the driver's side window to inquire about what the man was doing. The quick and curt reply was, "The pig was hungry." The man from Atlanta, who fashioned himself as having great knowledge of how to do things in the most efficient way, said, "Wouldn't it take a lot less time if you just put the pig on the ground and shook the tree so the ripe apples could fall within snout's reach of your hungry pig." The farmer, without so much as a slight pause said, "Time don't mean nothing to a pig."

When I came into this episcopacy I reasoned that I had plenty of time to do what we needed to do to perform our highest priority task: recruiting priests and seminarians to serve as military, VA and Bureau of Prisons chaplains, but particularly military chaplains. I have since determined that time is not on our side. Recent events have demonstrated that we are in a dire need to increase our numbers of very capable and thoughtful clergy of this church to serve as chaplains within the branches of the armed forces. Why, you might ask, do we still need more clergy to serve as chaplains when we have shut down the war in Iraq and are winding down the war in Afghanistan.

Though I could cite many, there is a primary reason. Even though Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, my chaplains are serving in an environment that is increasingly dominated by severely conservative to fundamentalist clergy, who are on one hand bent on expressing all of what they see as their First Amendment liberties to impose their version of the Christian faith upon everyone with whom they come into contact and also who embrace a sense of imperialistic nationalism by means of which they are eager to bless and condone almost any expression of armed warfare in any situation. In contrast, our clergy offer a very important reasoned influence to the environment. That influence is increasingly important because in all of the military services, not only are chaplains expected to provide pastoral, liturgical, and sacramental care to service members and to members of their families, also chaplains also expected to provide advisement to command leaders. When more so than ever before our military units are being employed as agents of international stabilization and diplomatic power projection, it is very important to me, and I hope to you and the people you serve, that their senior command leaders have the best moral and spiritual advise that is available to them.

Last year for the first time we recruited more chaplains than we lost. Though it took us longer to change the loss trend, a trend that had been in place for the last 6 to 8 years, now we have the momentum to move forward, and I do not want to lose this momentum. This week we have talked about grief, pain and catastrophic personal loss. I can think of few environments where such loss is any greater. We need your best and most capable young priests. We need bright and young seminarians who can enter our student programs. While I am very thankful to all you who have supported this episcopacy, please continue to send us the excellent applicants. My second point is to let you know how much I appreciate your collaboration in receiving active duty military chaplains of other faith traditions through Title III, Canon 10 and enabling them to transition into the priesthood of this church. This is a crucial part of our recruiting effort. Currently we have 5 other-faith-tradition military chaplains in 5 different dioceses who are in some stage of transition into Holy Orders in The Episcopal Church.

I recognize how difficult this can be for you and your Commissions on Ministry. I can and will assist you through this process. We know how the military system works and what is crucial for the soon to be priests to function in their operational environments. Call me and I will help you. You do not need to do this in isolation. Finally, very recently the Presiding Bishop received an email through the TEC web-site from the rather disgruntled spouse of a National Guard officer. Katharine passed the email on to me so I could contact the woman.

To make a somewhat long story short, during her husband's second 14 month deployment to Southwest Asia she became very frustrated and hurt that she had become invisible to her parish priest as she struggled to be a working mom who was raising two small children on her own. After talking with her I got in touch with one of you, her priest's bishop, and we worked through the situation. What I found that what this young wife and mother wanted more than anything else was for someone to compassionately listen to her, both while her husband was away and after he had returned home; she did not need to be "FIXED," but to be heard. She wanted, as my former bishop Ted Gulick taught me, to carry her and her needs on my heart. In the end, this problem ended up being something we could work with and help.

My take away is that some of the most invisible sacrifices in these long and tragic wars are being made by Reserve and National Guard service members and members of their families. Barry Bisner, who was for many years a National Guard chaplain, undoubtably can give you many examples of such situations. Unlike their active-duty counterparts, hometown Guard and Reserve people don't have the luxuries of being near large military installations with many family support resources. Please encourage your clergy to identify the Reserve and Guard families in their congregations and to monitor them. I know that it is important to remember that for these folk the war will not be over until long after the last round is fired and the last service member comes home. Many have experienced some horrendous sights and sounds, and have done some unthinkable things. The afterlife of their pain will endure for months and for years.

Trust me, as a Vietnam veteran I know. In closing, more so than ever before I am fully aware that I can't do this without you. The work of Armed Services and Federal Ministries is a collaborative effort I do with your assistance and cooperation. Thank you for all you are doing to support the people you have asked me to serve.

The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness To the House of Bishops Kanuga Conference Center Hendersonville, NC On March 12, 2013 Good afternoon. Jay Magness: Armed Services and Federal Ministries. I want to use the next few minutes to update you on some things
May 27, 2016
A soldier of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) places flags in front of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, U.S., May 26. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A soldier of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) places flags in front of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, U.S., May 26. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Of all the civic holidays on our U.S. calendar, Memorial Day may come closest to a deep embrace of spiritual values. Originally called “Decoration Day,” this remembrance began following one of the most poignant eras in our country’s history. Between 1864 and 1866, just after the end of the American Civil War, community leaders established a date upon which we could honor both Union and Confederate war dead. To remember those who had died in the service of their country, these leaders established observances that enabled Americans to engage in activities of unity and spiritual healing.

Memorial Day is a sacred commemoration. The persons we honor on this day are a silent witness to a virtuous honor that is particularly dear to people of spiritual values. This is the time each year when we remember men and women who have been, as is written about a leader of Roman soldiers in the New Testament, “…set under authority (Luke 7:8) …” On this day we remember that some of those under authority have, as a consequence of their service, sacrificed their lives.

Is there a cause for which dying is honorable? Laudable? Since the beginning of my military service 50 years ago, I have been trying to answer that question. For those who embrace Godly values, the question about dying in the service of your country has some important implications. Military training almost always contains the underlying lesson that being involved in the fulfillment of a mission could end up in death. Obviously, military service is not a commitment to be considered lightly by those who take the oath of office to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” (10 U.S. Code, Section 502). At the same time, few of us ever thought they we would die during a military mission. Unfortunately,  some have died.

I believe that people of faith can find spiritual values from the stories of men and women who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” of their lives. A few years ago I had the honor to conduct the Arlington National Cemetery burial service for Medal of Honor awardee Lieutenant Colonel Don C. Faith. Faith, who had been killed during the Korean War, had the reputation of being a “Soldier’s Soldier,” who gave his life doing everything he could to simultaneously keep his soldiers alive and achieve the mission. His dedication to his men and to his mission has become a timeless inspiration to service members and citizens alike.

Though personally we cannot thank service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country, surely we can honor them. We can pray that the memory of their sacrificial service will endure. We will remember them.

— The Rt. Rev. James B. “Jay” Magness is Episcopal Church Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries.

A soldier of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) places flags in front of the graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, U.S., May 26. Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters [Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Of all the civic
November 11, 2011

Editor's note: This piece first appeared online in The Huffington Post's Religion Section.

For many people of my generation who came of age through rites of passage in the 1960s, military service most often was looked upon as the least preferred life choice. Even amongst those of us who joined the military service through our own choice -- often to avoid the Selective Service which, we reasoned, surely would have resulted in Vietnam duty -- it was fashionable, and at times expected, that we would let it be known to anyone who would listen that we detested military authority and wearing a uniform. Those of us who grew up with a religious dimension as a part of our lives knew that we would receive little if any support for our choice to serve from our faith communities. Within the communities of worship in America attitudes about military service were often angrily expressed. In fact, for those of us who were spiritually formed in the main-line religious traditions, the only support we could expect was if we had chosen to become conscientious objectors.

Today the social and religious landscape of America is changing. While seeking the status of being a Conscientious Objector may be an honorable choice, there are other honorable choices as well. During that era I chose to be one of the draft-avoiders and joined the Navy. Though by that time I had a mostly dormant faith in God, even I knew that I need not expect much support from people in the pews -- and perhaps not even from the clergy who led the congregations.

For those and other reasons many of us today struggle to understand why young men and women, frequently people of faith, are so eager to line up at Armed Forces Recruiting Offices to join up, be administered the oath of office and take the roller coaster-like ride of basic training or boot camp. The Marine Corps, the military service with the highest expectations and most demanding standards, has so many requests to join that an applicant may have to wait six months or more to go to boot camp. Considering that we have just completed 10 years of a brutal and ongoing war, and that there is no requirement for compulsory military service, something is happening that most of us may have missed.

My observation is that a new ethos is emerging about military service. Even though far less than 1 percent of our citizens of our country serve in any branch of the military, as a society we have become very connected with men and women in the military services. A significant part of this positive connectedness in no small part has come as a result of all the National Guard and Reserve members from our communities who serve alongside their active-duty counterparts. It is very possible today for a soldier, sailor, marine or airman to be in Afghanistan one week and then the very next week be back at home working in the office and sitting beside you in the pew of your synagogue, church or mosque.

I recognize that any war, by the very nature of what people who are engaged in armed conflict do to one another, will always be viewed through the lens of moral questions. Some of these questions will be faith-based. It is always possible that military service will result in periods of being immersed in the moral tension of war. As a follower of Jesus Christ I hope we will never cease to view the actions of our military within the context of the scriptures and teachings of the church. Though the wars of the current era are no exception, our military leaders impress me as having an incredibly high standard of moral and legal requirements that must be met before engaging in doing personal harm to our enemies. Accordingly, I think it is certainly very possible that people of faith can honorably serve in our country's Armed Services.

Within my own Christian tradition I am reminded that Jesus viewed the service of others and self-sacrifice as one of the superior virtues (Matthew 23.11-12). To those of you who are in some way related to a service member or count a service member as an important person in your life, thanks for supporting your loved one in uniform. The life of a service member is not easy, nor is it easy for you to be connected to her or him. I hope that on Veterans Day this year, you will be able to suspend your fears and anxieties, even if only for the day, and simply be proud that you are related and connected to a person who is serving her or his country, and who may be serving as an expression of faith

-- Bishop James "Jay" Magness is Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries of the Episcopal Church. Based in Washington D.C., he is responsible for the pastoral care and oversight for armed forces chaplains, military personnel and families as well as oversight of federal hospitals, prisons, and correctional facilities. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2003 in the rank of Captain, serving as command chaplain of U.S. Joint Forces Command and fleet chaplain for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Prior to those assignments, from 1997 to 2000 he was on the Navy Chief of Chaplains' staff as personnel manager of the Navy Chaplain Corps.

Editor's note: This piece first appeared online in The Huffington Post's Religion Section. For many people of my generation who came of age through rites of passage in the 1960s, military service most often was looked upon as the least preferred
June 4, 2010

Support for the repeal of the U.S. Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is gaining momentum. Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill repealing the 17-year old law, followed closely by a vote of approval by the Senate Armed Service Committee just days later. It seems likely to me that within the next several months we will see the beginning of a fully integrated military in the United States. To this I say, "Hooray! And Amen!"

As the repeal gains momentum there have been a number of predictable responses from various groups both for and against the policy, but one particular outcry has surprised me, namely that of some military chaplains who say that a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" would somehow infringe upon their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

In a letter to President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, 40 retired chaplains claimed to speak for "many [if not most]" chaplains, citing their belief that the "normalization" of "homosexual behavior in the armed forces" will pose a difficult moral choice. And I agree.

It seems to me that we have been approaching this particular moral choice for some time, as chaplains from traditionally conservative and evangelical denominations have raised outcry after outcry over issues such as praying in Jesus' name, promotions of their fellow chaplains to higher ranks, and the right to evangelize. In each instance, these chaplains have sounded the same battle cry, pointing to the First Amendment, which they read as protecting of their right to be who they are. Indeed it does.

But what these chaplains fail to recognize is that the First Amendment, with respect to religious freedom, has two clauses: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." As a former Navy chaplain I remember well the admonitions of our instructors at Chaplain School: As chaplains it was to be our sworn duty to provide religious ministry to those of our own faith, to facilitate for the religious needs of others, to care for all in our charge, and to advise our commanding officers, ensuring the free exercise of religion. We were to walk a fine line between any hint of establishment and the assurance of free exercise. In providing for our own, we were sworn not to proselytize, and we were counseled and trained extensively on the pluralistic foundations of our work.

Even in Chaplain School there were debates between chaplain candidates and instructors over what some candidates thought were unfair policies. Surely they must be allowed to be who they were! And yes, within limits, they were assured that they could preach, teach, and worship according to their faith tradition, but when it came to the religious needs of others they were to defer -- a necessary accommodation that ensured the continued presence of chaplains for the free exercise of religion at the risk of violating the establishment clause. A fine line indeed, and a nuance that many could not grasp.

So yes, as our government moves forward with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the integration of our military, as we move closer toward that "more perfect union" where all people can enter into military service regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious preference, military chaplains are faced with a difficult moral choice: either support and defend the Constitution of the United States (all of it), or risk the extinction of the chaplaincy.

For too long we have allowed evangelical chaplains to insist on "free exercise" at the expense of the spiritual, religious, moral, and personal well-being of our men and women in uniform. For too long we have let them exercise their conscience while sublimating our own religious beliefs. For too long we have entertained their half-reading of the Constitution while risking the continued presence of chaplains who understand their duty and who are willing to hold their beliefs strongly while allowing others to do the same. And if we continue to allow them to run roughshod over us, our faith, and our well-founded Constitutional values, I believe that the military would be better off without all of them, and that is a sad thing, indeed.

I, for one, see the intrinsic value of a military chaplaincy that can provide, facilitate, and advise. In these sad days of conflict the men and women of our armed forces need the unique voice of hope that chaplains can provide, and, perhaps more so, our military leaders need the moral voice and ethical advice that is their chaplain.

There is, indeed, a moral choice at hand, and I fear that if you don't make the right choice it will be made for all of us.

Support for the repeal of the U.S. Military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is gaining momentum. Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill repealing the 17-year old law, followed closely by a vote of approval by the Senate Armed Service
March 20, 2006

It began as a simple ministry: place daily morning prayer, noonday prayer and compline online for anyone to hear. The Rev. Dr. Chip Lee, who has a background in broadcasting, has been recording these inspirational prayers for downloading in his rural Garrett County office and putting them on his church's Web site since September 2005.

In January the Diocese of Maryland installed a new server, upgrading the output to streaming audio and video of live and pre- recorded content via RealPlayer(tm) - including Lee's devotionals.

This means no more waiting for files to download before hearing or seeing anything. RealPlayer is a free program that allows users to watch or listen to streaming or pre-recorded content through the internet.

This new technology carries Lee's and the diocese's message to greater numbers of people than ever before. There were 7,500 visitors to www.ang-md.org in January, up from 6,500 in December.

"Having greatly improved the quality of our output, the diocese and I wanted to reach more people and the office of military chaplaincies was a logical choice," noted Lee, rector of St. Matthew's, Oakland, and vicar of St. John's, Deer Park. "This is a resource for our chaplains in the field to pass on to those in their charge. Our soldiers and sailors, especially those in the Middle East, are disconnected from the world and this ministry allows them to connect with God. They don't have to wait for a service or find a chaplain - it's there when they need it."

With one e-mail, Lee expanded the daily devotionals audience to include members of the U.S. military worldwide. He contacted the Rev. Gerald J. Blackburn, director for military chaplaincies, on February 19 simply asking him to "check out the links" and "if they meet with your approval, offer them to your chaplains so that they might offer them to the sailors and soldiers in their charge."

On February 26 military personnel began downloading MP3 files of the devotionals. Due to limitations on bandwidth, streaming audio is not available to the troops overseas; the files are formatted to meet the needs of the military and give all visitors to the Web site a choice of formats.

"We greatly appreciate being able to offer to all our chaplains and members of the Armed Services this helpful online access to the Daily Office as a convenient spiritual resource for personal and/or group use. It also serves as an important connection with our greater Episcopal Church family for those Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guard and civilian government personnel scattered around the globe, including those at sea aboard ships, those in rather remote military installations in such places as Iceland and Okinawa, as well as those in harm's way in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait," said Blackburn.

Early reviews

Positive e-mails from chaplains in the field in Iraq indicate that Lee's ministry is a blessing.

"Once I got to the MP3, it was marvelous and a broadcast quality production. It is truly a wonderful contribution to our troops and the web. May God richly bless you and your parish for your outreach over the web," wrote Lt. Cmdr. (sel) Mark S. Winward, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy.

"What a wonderful resource! I'm going to pass this along to the incoming chaplains as we go home," wrote Lt. Michael R. Pipkin, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy.

The increase in number of visitors to the churches' Web site seems toback that up. Within 24 hours of posting the MP3 files for the military, Lee reported a jump in visitors from 830 to 1,100.

Morning prayer is updated daily and noonday prayer and compline rotate seven versions by day of week. The devotionals run six to 16 minutes and are set to the Native American flute music of R. Carlos Nakai, used by permission of Canyon Records, Phoenix, Arizona. The devotionals are posted on the Lee's church's Web site, www.episcopalchurchingarrettcounty.org, which can be accessed through the Diocese of Maryland home page, www.ang-md.org.

In the future the diocese hopes to expand offerings to include vespers, sermons, concerts and special worship services.

The diocesan Web site is in the process of being upgraded for greater accessibility by those who are blind or visually impaired. Access to Web site content will be enabled by text-to-speech synthesizer software programs (aka "screen readers"), allowing the diocese to more effectively minister to the blind community.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is a Christian community of 23,000 households in 117 congregations covering 10 counties and Baltimore City. Visit www.ang-md.org for more information.

 

It began as a simple ministry: place daily morning prayer, noonday prayer and compline online for anyone to hear. The Rev. Dr. Chip Lee, who has a background in broadcasting, has been recording these inspirational prayers for downloading in his
April 9, 2003

(ENS) For the most part, military chaplains come from congregations that receive the news that their priest is being mobilized and potentially deployed "suddenly," explains Bishop George Packard, the Episcopal Church's suffragan for chaplains. "It sends a shock wave through the whole Eucharistic community and they have to reorient themselves: how do we function, how do we take care of the priest's family left behind, how do we take care of our own needs? Will we have enough money for an interim priest? So there's lots of kinds of stressors that are brought immediately upon these congregations as well as those priests who are being deployed as chaplains."

Packard's office has learned to work with diocesan bishops to form a plan for congregations whose priest, now a chaplain, may be gone for a year or more. "The old days of the prior Gulf War where you would be out for six, seven months tops are a thing of the past," he said. "These folks are mobilizing now, expecting to be there through December."

Some congregations take it in stride. "It varies. Some congregations just plow right ahead and we never hear anything," said the Ret. Gerry Blackburn, director for military ministries. "Others call us and say they need help. Some don't have the resources, and the priest steps out of the picture for six, seven months, and attendance sometimes drops, income sometimes drops. But that is the exception more than the rule."

 

Focus on the work at hand

The important thing for Packard's office is to make certain such concerns don't weigh on the mind of a deployed chaplain. "We try to enhance the environment so that they're only looking forward at the present situation, not at what's going on at home," Packard explained. "It's a hard human dynamic to put in place, but if they're not present with their current charge of the military unit that's around them, they're really nowhere, they're caught between two worlds. So it's a very important thing to encourage that focus to the work that's at hand."

Packard and Blackburn have been working with vestries and preparing materials in concert with the Church Pension Fund in the last two months, to help churches that are having a tough time financially in meeting the obligations of a priest who's away. "The Pension Fund folks have been really supportive and trying to help us in every way," Blackburn said.

"We learned the hard way that if you try to reinvent the wheel and not go through dioceses, you're in trouble," Packard said. "So we have made sure that beyond the obvious thing of supporting military chaplains and their families, the dioceses are the ones that know of the families of active-duty military."

Already, Packard has had to travel to a prayer service at Grace Church in Merchantville, New Jersey, the home parish of Sgt. James Riley, a mechanic with the 507th Maintenance Company who was among those ambushed early in the war after taking a wrong turn near Nasiriyah. Riley and four others have been held captive by Iraqi forces since March 23. Injured private first class Jessica Lynch and the bodies of eight soldiers from that company have been recovered.

"That diocese has a support plan. They have connected with every congregation and tried to find who are the Episcopalians in the military," said Packard. "So we've been collecting plans for how these dioceses have been doing that, posting those on the web page and trying to get dioceses to copy each other."

 

A non-anxious presence

If Packard has one piece of advice for congregations and dioceses, it's this: "Find out who are the military in your dioceses. They tend to be invisible. They're either embarrassed about serving in the military, or it just never comes up so this is not the time for these families and individuals to be isolated. It's also not the time to be isolated from the Islamic community, the Arab community, in your town."

It's also important to provide communities with a "non-anxious presence," he said. "This is a time to develop what we call the St. Paul effect--keep the lights on in the church and make it accessible to all [as St. Paul's Chapel did at Ground Zero in New York]. We've learned that despite what everybody tells you to do, you keep the church open, the coffeepot on, some sort of maven-like character there if the rector's not so disposed, and have a place open where people can come in."

Packard and Blackburn emphasized that the experience of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks and their aftermath taught them the importance of preparation for disaster. "I remember Bishop Packard calling us all together and saying you know, we may have to do this again one day. Let's be ready," Blackburn recalled. They've prepared and sent to every Episcopal congregation a new CD resource called "What to Do Next When a Disaster Strikes," designed to help congregations and communities faced with responding to any crisis--going to war, facing a terrorist event, even a natural disaster.

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service

(ENS) For the most part, military chaplains come from congregations that receive the news that their priest is being mobilized and potentially deployed "suddenly," explains Bishop George Packard, the Episcopal Church's suffragan for chaplains. "It
April 9, 2003

(ENS) Two weeks before the first air strikes were launched on Baghdad, Bishop George Packard, suffragan in charge of the Episcopal Church's chaplaincies, reminded a gathering at the Episcopal Church Center that "when America goes to war, the Episcopal Church will go to war too"--in the person of active-duty and reservist Episcopal chaplains who accompany U.S. troops into battle.

Two weeks after war began, Packard was ready to expand on that statement.

"I think that when the nation goes to war, the Episcopal Church is called to go to compassion," Packard explained in an phone interview from his home, where he was catching up on phone calls to chaplains deployed overseas and their families stateside. "When the Episcopal Church goes to war, we don't gird up with weaponry. We gird up with even more of the things our Lord has taught us. We have to be very resourceful in how we apply these things."

It's Packard's job, and that of his office, to supply resources to those who minister "in harm's way," whether the harm comes from war, an act of terrorism, or natural disaster. These days Packard and the Rev. Gerry Blackburn, director for military ministries, are spending long days--and sometimes nights--in their offices, on the phone and in the air, at tasks ranging from making certain chaplains have a ready supply of freshly blessed Episcopal Service Crosses to practical assistance for their families.

It's all part of what Packard and Blackburn call their "Pastoral Support Mission," a 14-point plan for action in case of war or an act of terrorism on American soil. Priorities include supporting military and Veterans Administration chaplains, coordinating with congregations and dioceses to support military personnel and their families, updating resources available on the office's website, and distributing a new CD resource for congregations and clergy facing crisis situations. (It has now been sent to all Episcopal parishes.)

Ready to go

There are "about 160" Episcopal chaplains in the armed forces, Blackburn estimated. Of that number, 55 are active duty, full-time members of the Army Chaplain Corps, the Naval Chaplain Corps (which includes Marine Corps chaplains), and Air Force Chaplains Service. The others are Reserve, Guard, and Civil Air Patrol chaplains. Currently, seven active-duty chaplains are "in theater" in Iraq; of the reservists and guards, three are deployed and another three are awaiting orders.

The chaplains and their families are prepared for what lies ahead, Blackburn reported. "They've trained with their men and women, so they know something of what going into a theater of war means," said Blackburn. "I think only one, maybe two of the chaplains that are there have actually been in harm's way before, so it's new for most all of them. But it seems from our conversations with them that they are prepared.

"And equally, their families are prepared, as best anyone can be. We're sensitive to where they are, and we're providing pastoral care through listening, through prayer, just being supportive in any way we can to the families of the chaplains," Blackburn added.

"We are in the midst right now of calling those who are about ready to get on transportation to go overseas," Packard said. One recently deployed chaplain's wife, with two children at home, just moved into a new house, totaled the family van, and had to take her mother--who'd also just moved--to the hospital. Packard moved into action, locating a local Ford dealership to provide her with transportation until the van is repaired.

Symbols of sanity and normalcy

In the field, chaplains provide what the Air Force calls "visible reminders of the Holy," whose duty, as the Army puts it, is "bringing God closer to the soldier and the soldier closer to God." Noncombatants by law, they are not allowed to carry weapons or command troops, though trained--and armed--chaplain assistants provide security as well as liturgical assistance.

Military chaplains of all faiths are required to be sensitive to the religious pluralism of the armed forces, providing equally for the spiritual needs of the various faith traditions represented. (Even the Episcopal Church's Prayer Book for the Armed Services includes forms for the Roman Catholic Act of Contrition and a Jewish confession for the critically ill.) "Chaplains are taught never to proselytize and if they see any troops proselytizing, to caution them--doubly so in a Muslim country," said Blackburn.

They also serve as ethical advisors to commanding officers, applying the principles of just-war theory and providing updates on the spiritual health and morale of troops in the field. Episcopal chaplains such as Chaplain Jay Magness, head chaplain of the US Navy's Atlantic fleet, have been featured on shows such as PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program, talking about the challenges they and their parishioners in uniform will face in war.

Packard and Blackburn have already heard from some of the chaplains in Iraq by email. "I have just returned from Umm Qasr for a few days. I will return north from Kuwait to join the forces there through Easter," wrote Army chaplain Jeffrey Seiler. "I am very keenly aware of the responsibility that I and all chaplains in this theatre have to be the symbols of sanity and normalcy in a world that often does not make sense. The events here have had a way of stripping away all that is unnecessary and bring us face to face with ourselves and God.

"I buried 4 Iraqis killed in the war brought to me by the Brits I was with in Umm Qasr. I said Muslim prayers and Christian prayers over them after arranging the bodies so they would face SW toward Mecca. I gave a Quran in Arabic to an Iraqi man who was hired to work in the dining hall in the port facility who let me know he did not have one after the battle ther," Seilor wrote.

"I rise at 0415 to the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque across the street," reported Marine chaplain Jerome Hinson, on the staff of a Marine Corps lieutenant general in charge of supplying forward troops with fuel, food, water and ammunition. "While saying Morning Prayer, I wonder about how God hears the prayers I utter in concert with those offered across the street. A short while later I walk the 20 minutes or so it takes me to get from my quarters to our base.

"As I arrive, the Commanding General is in our office. He is conferring with my supervisory chaplain, a Navy Captain. The General wants some passages of scripture to reflect on as he prepares to write and call people who have had loved ones hurt," Hinson wrote. "One Marine has been wounded, his foot blown off when an Iraqi soldier who had surrendered had a change of heart. Another Marine had his face crushed in a vehicular accident. Our General feels their loss deeply. His Marines have been hurt and he hurts for them. His love for them is fierce. You will never see this reported in the news…What I do is not glamorous, but, it is, perhaps, holy."

'Can you separate the doer from the deed?'

Never far from their thoughts, or those of their chaplains, is the strong opposition expressed by church leaders worldwide to the Iraq war, from the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury to parish priests and congregational leaders.

"I think it's a strain right now," Packard observed. "When we were talking about just cause and getting ready to go to war, I was one of the biggest ralliers around 'let's do as many intellectual exercises around this as we can, let's really turn this inside out--that's our duty as the baptized to do so.' And I asked the chaplains to join me in that and share what they would about these matters of just cause for war." The results of that sharing are posted on the chaplains' office web site.

Now that the ground war has commenced, Packard thinks "the indicator on the dial has moved in a different direction." In one of his regular reflections on the web site, he wrote, "I worry about those who are fighting for us--not for their training or their courage--I worry about what we are saying to them. Maybe it's an imponderable but the popular 'support the soldier and not the war' phrase used by many comes across as odd to someone on the battlefield. Can you separate the doer from the deed? After a debate on foreign policy the days of falling in behind an administration as a united, loyal people may be gone but the result for troops in harm's way is not good."

"I come out on the side of the people that I minister to," Packard explained. "And I think our chaplains are feeling that strain too. We've had some very pointed responses from overseas about their worries about where we stand relative to that. Our chaplains are saying something to us back from the field, that we don't appreciate any fuzzy thinking about this. We're committed to finishing a job under less than perfect circumstances. I think getting it done, getting it done quickly, treating victims and innocents and for that matter those who surrender with compassion, connection with your buddies, and making sure that the level of warfare is proportional to the threat that we face [are the goals now]."

Peace is the destination

Packard's office sees the ongoing discussion of the justice of war--and the pursuit of peace--as part of its charge too, sharing that with other ministries at the Church Center. "In our office we get lots of emails and messages out there asking how to think through a position about the war. I think we have a ministry to tell others at 815 what our experiences are with helping people to do that," said Packard.

Packard has also been in conversation with leaders of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship about a paper on "just peace" to be presented to General Convention this summer. "The idea is that this is a peace church. We want to keep our eye on the ball here--we believe that peace is the destination. The difference for me is that there may be instances where coercive force has to be employed for the common good, for the protection of the vulnerable, as Augustine put it.

"Being the one superpower does create some new dynamics of ethical struggle," Blackburn agreed. "Even Archbishop Williams referred to that, that the US is the only country right now that's going to have to 'mop up' in certain world situations. I guess how we do that is the test for us."

 

--The Rev. Jan Nunley is deputy director of Episcopal News Service.

(ENS) Two weeks before the first air strikes were launched on Baghdad, Bishop George Packard, suffragan in charge of the Episcopal Church's chaplaincies, reminded a gathering at the Episcopal Church Center that "when America goes to war, the

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