New Toolkit Advises Congregations on Military Ministry
Ministering to the military just got easier, with the release in June of the Military Ministry Toolkit from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Ministries and Faith Development staff group. The 54-page kit, available free online, is designed to help congregations and other groups become more inviting to and inclusive of military members, veterans, and their families.
The kit includes a 23-minute video, “Welcoming the Unitarian Universalist Behind the Uniform,” and a series of six one-hour workshops that provide a process for learning about issues related to military service, respectfully discussing issues of war and peace, and being welcoming and supporting.
The video was created with the close involvement of Unitarian Universalist (UU) military chaplains, veterans, and active-duty military personnel and family members. It can be used for any of the following purposes:
- as an introduction to UU military ministry
- as a tool for religious professionals and other leaders to “make the case” for why a congregation or group should reach out to military personnel, veterans, and families
- as a marketing and information tool to encourage people to participate in the series of six workshops included with this kit
- as a prelude to a series of workshops
- as part of a worship service
- as part of a program that invites people of multiple generations (elders, adults, young adults, and youth) to be in conversation with one another about military service
The series of six one-hour workshops, written by the Rev. Dr. Monica Cummings, Gail Forsyth-Vail, and Rev. Seanan Holland, is based on material originally developed and written by Holland and the Rev. David Pyle, both UU chaplains, and published by the Church of the Larger Fellowship as the Building Bridges program, which has now evolved into the Military Ministry Toolkit.
The first four workshops invite deep conversation among participants about:
- Individual and Family Messages Received about Military Service (Workshop 1)
- Assessing Your Congregation’s Approach to Military Service (Workshop 2)
- Philosophical and Ethical Questions about War and Peace (Workshop 3)
- The Impact of War and Military Service on Families (Workshop 4)
The final two workshops provide tools for inviting the whole congregation into the conversation about military ministry:
- Inviting Engagement through Congregation Worship (Workshop 5)
- Next Steps (Workshop 6)
On the video, Kimberly Paquette relates how finding a UU congregation helped save her life when she was in the army. “That congregation was such an intense breath of fresh air...I felt safe and held when I was sharing my profound grief, my joys, my concerns. The congregation was lifesaving for me. It was the only place in my week where I was able to be vulnerable and where I was called by my first name.” Paquette is now director of multigenerational ministries for the UUA’s Northern New England District.
Shawna Foster, social media director for CLF, has led several workshops around UUs and the military. In one session a woman, the wife of a military member, began crying, Foster related. “She had all this grief about how she is a UU and her husband was too until he saw how their congregation didn’t welcome his military experience. It made her feel alone.
“In another session, one man was very anti-military at the start. What he came to realize by the end is that the public must hold the politicians accountable, rather than those who serve. It helped him frame how to do peace work while holding the correct people in power responsible. It helped him see there had to be more to peace activism than being anti-military.”
Foster added, “One thing congregations may not be aware of is how many members do not talk about their military experience because they don’t feel welcome to do so. I encourage congregations to consider using the toolkit, for the reason that they simply don’t know how the military has affected the lives of many people in the congregation, or visitors. And if we’re looking at diversity, the military is one of the most diverse parts of society culturally and ethnically.”
Congregations can also reach out to veterans in other ways, she noted. “Even if a congregation is not near a military institution it probably is near a Veterans Administration hospital. “VA facilities are receptive to denominations supplying literature and it might also be possible for a congregation to offer small groups.”
- Bless All Who Serve, by the Rev. Matthew Tittle and the Rev. Gail Tittle, a pocket-size book of readings and songs, plus reflections by veterans and military chaplains. The book is $8 from the UUA Bookstore.
- War Zone Faith: An Army Chaplain’s Reflections from Afghanistan, by Capt. George Tyger. This book is $8 from the UUA bookstore.