From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Guidelines help churches with pastors in military

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Tue, 18 Feb 2003 15:52:51 -0600

Feb. 18, 2003 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 

NOTE: For related coverage, see UMNS story #081.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - The mobilization of U.S. military forces for duty
in Afghanistan or Iraq puts added stress on United Methodist churches whose
pastors serve as chaplains.

In response, the denomination's Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries
has revised and updated its guidelines for helping chaplains, local
congregations and bishops' cabinets deal with pastors being called to active
duty in the National Guard and Armed Forces Reserve programs.

The guide was last revised a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists
attacks, according to the Rev. Greg Hill, director of endorsement for the

The material today covers diverse topics, such as annual conference
relationship, the length of mobilization, how to help the chaplain's family,
and questions about housing, health benefits and pensions. The guide also
suggests ways for assisting the chaplain before deployment, during active
duty and after the return home. It contains expanded resources and links for
additional information. 

The guidelines were developed by staff from the United Methodist Board of
Higher Education and Ministry, which includes the chaplains' section; the
Board of Pension and Health Benefits; members of bishops' cabinets; and
chaplains in the National Guard and Reserves.

The guidelines needed to be enhanced, in part, to ensure that bishops,
cabinets, ordained ministry boards and local churches understood the
distinction between voluntary mobilization and involuntary mobilization, said
Hill, who retired Feb. 1 as an Army chaplain after more than 25 years of
active service.

With voluntary mobilization, a chaplain responds to a request for
mobilization that may be refused or initiates voluntary service on his or her
own. "Voluntary mobilization must be an agreement between the bishop,
cabinet, staff and pastor-parish relations committee and the chaplain that
the mobilization may occur," Hill said.

Involuntary call-up occurs when a chaplain's unit is activated for duty or an
individual reserve chaplain is called into active duty.

The guidelines help the church understand its obligations under the Uniformed
Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. The church is not
exempt from providing a comparable position, job restoration and continued
benefits to an employee returning from military service. Bishops and cabinets
must restore a returning pastor to a church or charge comparable to the one
he or she served before being mobilized.

When the guidelines were written in 2001, chaplains and reserve units were on
active duty for up to 90 days. Today, given the current crisis with Iraq,
troops will be mobilized from 180 days up to two years. The new plan
addresses longer periods of military service, Hill said.

The Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries endorses ordained ministers
to serve as chaplains and pastoral counselors in settings such as the
military, correctional institutions, and mental and health care centers. 

Hill, who has been director of endorsement since Jan. 1, wants to hear from
chaplains, bishops and boards of ordained ministry if they find the new
guidelines difficult. "We need those comments because this is a major
revision," he said. "We do not know if this is perfect. ... In the future,
things such as law and policies might change, but we are at the point where
we should be now."

Complete guidelines from the Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries may
be found at

Although confident in the training and resources that chaplains have to do
their jobs, Hill said his primary concern "is for timely and effective
pastoral care to be provided to military members and their families." The
leaders and members of the United Methodist Church should understand that
"prayers are needed for all military members, their families and the
chaplains as the chaplains go into harm's way," he said. 

The Section of Chaplains and Related Ministries and the worship section of
the United Methodist Board of Discipleship have been inundated with requests
for prayers and worship resources as the crisis with Iraq has intensified. In
response, Hill offers  "Prayers for Today" at the Web site. The prayer
provides a way to support chaplains as they depart for active military

The worship section has created an order of service for men and women
mobilized or deployed and an order of service for a reserve chaplain called
into active service. The worship section also has additional written
resources for worship, including "Praying for Peace in the Face of War." All
are available at

For Hill, supporting chaplains is a primary concern, and he said United
Methodist churches and leadership should put pastoral care ahead of politics.

"During the Vietnam War, there were soldiers who felt that they were not
welcome in the church," he said. "I pray that we not exclude military
members, none of who had anything to do with the decisions made by our
national leadership. 

"We ask that the United Methodist Church be grateful for the faithful service
our military provides. We also ask that leadership and general membership of
the United Methodist Church pray for all the leaders of the world, that they
may make decisions that are best for their nations' people which should
result in peace."

For more information, contact the Section of Chaplains and Related
Ministries, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministries, P.O.
Box 340007, Nashville, TN 37203-0007; call (615) 340-7411; or e-mail Hill at

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