(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)
About a month ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was hospitality. We then looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Several weeks ago we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. Our forth topic was how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration. Last week we looked at how the “sacred story” can be a means of healing for the soul.
Faith community, recognize and celebrate your strengths and capacities for care! For each is a gift that can become a part of the foundation on which you can now move to respond in developing a relationship with a veteran and their family.
While the primary role for caring for our veterans lie with the Department of Veterans Affairs; community leaders and groups, and faith communities have engaged in an increasing role supporting veteran challenges. Community groups and faith communities often fill the gaps in meeting the needs of the veteran community. Partnerships form in order to provide housing, employment, education, reintegration resources, and mental health care. However, the faith community can provide an additional role, helping veterans recover from spiritual wounds.
The faith community’s role has importance. Research suggests,
At the same time, higher levels of religious belief, as measured by frequent attendance at religious services, dramatically increases the odds that a post-9/11 veteran will have an easier time readjusting to civilian life. According to the analysis, a recent veteran who attends religious services at least once a week has a 67 percent chance of having an easy re-entry experience. Among post-9/11 veterans who never attend services, the probability drops to 43%. (The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life, Pew Research Center, December 8, 2011)
Does the faith community have relevance? It is interesting to note that returning veterans are among the demographic least likely to attend church, synagogue, temple or mosque. The millennials, which make up the largest demographic in the military, are largely second generation un-churched. But, many millennials have loved ones who attend religious services regularly. Additionally, faith community members live out their faith with compassion, love, and care in their community.
Important to note: less than than 1% of our nation have served or participated in the Post 9/11 wars. If you add direct family members it still is only 5% of the population that understand our veterans’ experiences or challenges. How can the faith community be supportive? With awareness, training, coaching, support, and resourcing; caregivers (faith community leaders, parish nurses, congregation members, loved ones and friends) can be empowered to render an invaluable service to the returning veteran and their families.
However, some returning veterans do not desire to return to their places of worship. They are;
- afraid of being judged for their actions in war
- concerned that the faith community is uninformed or ill-prepared to meet their needs
- troubled of being told they are no longer welcomed in the community
- lacking in the trust of God or the people of faith with their stories
It is not just the veteran that may be the obstacle. Some faith communities that hold an anti-war stance often do not know how to reconcile their views with the fact that they have veterans in their community with spiritual needs. In fact, in a workshop I conducted for clergy, a pastor explained that he was anti-war and did not know how to welcome veterans. Some faith communities approach veterans on the other side of the spectrum. They laud over veterans, calling them heroes and placing them on pedestals.
POSSIBLE FAITH COMMUNITY RESPONSES
How can the faith community better help veterans recover from spiritual wounds? The faith community is uniquely positioned to respond. When a warrior has a soul wound, people of faith can live out a critical role in the warriors’ journey. After wars of the past, clergy and congregational members have played a key role in helping veterans find healing of the soul. Clergy and laity have offered through their actions hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort. Clergy have offered words of assurance from Holy texts. Both actions and words living out the sacred story provide remarkable healing power.
In spite of all of the challenges mentioned, the faith community is uniquely suited to be in relationship with the veteran. The church, synagogue, temple, and mosque do the following;
- make a lifetime commitment of care
- understand fear, shame, suffering and grief
- know how to be supportive of persons having spiritual wounds
The faith community’s responses center on several core competencies such as;
- cultivate an awareness within the congregation and community
- provide support
- seek a restorative path
- create safe space
- make meaning
PRESCRIPTIVE OR DESCRIPTIVE?
An important factor that we must address, the context within our communities is very different. We may attend religious services in a United Methodist church in Iowa, a Hindu Temple in New York City, a mosque in Washington, DC, or a synagogue in Boston. The various community and veteran challenges will be unique to each particular context. As the Soul Care Initiative developed the core competencies, we did so not intending that they provide answers, but are a means to discovery. The Congregational Tool Kit is a guide for the faith community to begin a conversation with leadership in the community and faith community, interested faith partners, congregants and veterans. Conversation will open doors of opportunity for the faith community to develop relationships and trust with veterans.
Next week, we will look in detail on how to cultivate an awareness within the faith community. In the meantime, Happy Independence Day and thank you for the conversation…