The United Methodists have chosen “the military chaplain” as the United Methodist of the Year.
Robin Russell writes:
For being the symbol of the courageous and steady support offered to members of the U.S. Armed Forces—in a year that saw a deadly assault at an Army base—the military chaplain is our 2009 United Methodist of the Year.
This composite of the many ordained United Methodist clergy who work tirelessly and even sacrificially to bring spiritual comfort to our military personnel is exemplified most recently by those who counseled wounded soldiers and victims’ families near Fort Hood Army Post in Killeen, Texas, following the Nov. 5 mass shootings on the base by an Army psychiatrist.
In light of the heroic men and women they serve, being a military chaplain can be a thankless job, and their critical contributions can often go unrecognized, says retired Bishop Woodie White, the denomination’s Endorsing Agent for Chaplain Ministries.
“Military chaplains for the most part are unseen by the general public,” Bishop White said. “Even in the church, they are often unheralded, and even criticized by a few. Yet the importance of their ministry has grown as the military itself has changed.”
It’s true that much of the routine life on a military base today resembles that of civilian communities, with spouses, children and school activities. In that regard, the role of a chaplain is not unlike that of a pastor at a local church.
But when the heat is on, their task can be like pastoral ministry on steroids. Beyond their regular responsibilities is the ever-present reality of war—with the inevitability of casualties and deaths—and the possibility of being deployed with the troops they serve.
“Chaplains themselves must be prepared to accompany troops in harm’s way,” Bishop White said. “For the chaplain, the responsibility is great, burden often heavy and the opportunity for pastoral care constant.”
So in a year when the pressures experienced by increased numbers of troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq was compounded by the sense of betrayal here on U.S. soil, the military chaplain stands out as an indispensable person who truly made a difference. Regardless of anyone’s political persuasion on the war against terrorism, United Methodists can join in commending the unwavering service of those who support our military personnel on a day-to-day basis.