The Rev. LeNoir Culbertson used to think churches needed to create special programs for military families.
But during her appointment at Madison Street United Methodist Church, just a few miles from Fort Campbell, Ky., Culbertson discovered that many of the needs of a military family with a deployed member are similar to those of single parents.
Up to one third of the 600 active members of the Clarksville, Tenn., congregation, near the home of the 101st Airborne Division, are related to the military. However, Culbertson said, "I was told repeatedly, 'We don't want to be treated like military.'"
From her experience emerged several ideas for congregations located near military bases. As Culbertson learned, these hints also are adaptable for churches in ministry with single-parent families.
1. Provide childcare for church programs, such as a Bible study or prayer groups. Kerry Mays, whose husband Bryce was deployed in Iraq, said military families often do not have time to arrange for childcare or other help. "My husband was deployed in May, and we found out in April that he was leaving," she said. "With your church family, you don't have to worry that someone will use profanity, or say something you don't want one of your children to hear."
2. Offer support groups for military spouses and children. "You have a spouse you don't know if you'll see again," Mays explained, "and you need someone to talk to, some type of system for moral support."
3. Offer support groups for returning troops, especially those who may be overlooked. When Chaplain Lt. Col. Scott Weichl was serving as behavioral health program manager at the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., he worried that the Reserve and National Guard soldiers who returned to their communities after deployment would lack support services available to active-duty military.
4. Collaborate with other organizations. "Churches could make a tremendous impact on Army Guard and Reserve soldiers," Weichl added. "There is a wonderful opportunity for churches to partner with other organizations or the military."
5. Assess needs of military families. When the Rev. Ron Lowery was Clarksville District superintendent, he hoped to set up zones based on the episcopal structure of the church so there would be a church to serve as a resource center about every 20 miles.
6. Pray for military families, but do not put them on a special prayer list. That advertises that a spouse, often a woman, and children are living alone.
7. Keep a current list of reliable handypersons such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters and mechanics. Many military families "come into town and don't know anyone," Culbertson said.
8. Remember the spiritual side. "We tried to offer programs and liturgy that were supportive of the military, but not flag waving, not saying everything you do is the will of God," Culbertson suggested.
— Adapted from a 2009 UMNS story by Vicki Brown, who was then associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Brown is now Editor of United Methodist News Service (UMNS).