Welcoming people into our congregations takes a conscious effort. Being open to their stories, accepting them in their differences, and allowing their presence and experiences to transform us can be difficult, even when a person’s stories seem similar to our own. But, when a person brings a set of experiences that are new or different, challenging our own assumptions, it takes more than conscious effort to be welcoming. It takes training and preparation.
Many people who have a military background seek, and often struggle, to find a place in our congregations. A military member, not feeling connected to services at the chapels on base, finds their way to the local Unitarian Universalist church on Sunday. A veteran whose service was decades in the past wonders if the stories of their time in uniform would be welcome in their UU congregation. A military spouse whose loved one is overseas is looking for an accepting and affirming community to be a support during this difficult time of separation. A parent whose child is serving in the military questions whether their UU church can really understand what it feels like to be both proud and frightened at the same time.
I was one of those veterans who wondered if my Unitarian Universalist congregation would be able to hold the stories of my military service. I wondered what my fellow UUs would think of me if they knew I thought about returning to military service. I found some who did understand, but I also encountered many good-hearted people who just did not have the experience to understand the struggle I was going through. I wondered if my religious community was big enough to hold all the stories that were mine.
This Veteran’s Day, make time to consider the role that your congregation might play in the lives of military people, veterans, and their families. What contributions might their experiences make to your own Unitarian Universalist community? How can your congregation seek to grow in your ability to welcome those who are connected to the military? There are resources for training and preparing a congregation for this work available online in the UUA Military Ministry Toolkit. Your congregation can explore and uncover the stories of military service and connection from those already in your congregation. You can also prepare to welcome those beyond our congregations who are looking for a faith like ours. The workshops and materials in the program help congregations and individuals name and explore the assumptions about those connected to military service that may be keeping us from being truly welcoming.
For it is only when our stories, all of our stories, are included in our religious communities that we best express being the faith of All Souls.
Review the Military Ministry Toolkit for Congregations. Invite other leaders in your congregation to consider growing in capacity to welcome those with military connections.
Become familiar with the Military Ministry of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our Unitarian Universalist congregation without walls.
Explore the UU Military Facebook page.
About the Blogger
Rev. David Pyle is the District Executive of the Joseph Priestley District of the UUA, and a member of the Central East Regional Staff of the UUA Congregational Life Staff Group. He is also a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain serving at Ft. Dix in New Jersey. As an enlisted soldier, he served in Latin America, Germany, and as a Peacekeeper in Bosnia-y-Herzegovina.