By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jon BouriaqueJune 20, 2014
Caring for Soldiers and their Families is the passion and calling of Army chaplains. Indeed, the Chaplain Corps' mission to "nurture the living" embodies this divine call to ministry. Yet, as the Army and the battlefield continue to transition, Soldiers are faced with more stress in life than ever before. As a result, chaplains continue to be called upon to act as everything from marriage counselor to career advisor to spiritual therapist.
Thankfully, the chaplain is not a lone warrior in his or her mission to care for Soldiers and their Families. Outside of nearly every CONUS installation, numerous agencies stand ready and eager to lend a hand in caring for Soldiers. Nearby religious organizations, hospitals, charities, and even law enforcement agencies are eager to contribute to Soldier care, but are often unaware of the unique challenges that Soldiers face or the type of care they want. With events such as the U.S. Army Central (USARCENT) Soldier and Family Ministry Forum (SFMF), however, chaplains are able to bridge this information gap and team up with these local agencies to provide a more comprehensive ministry to Soldiers.
The USARCENT SFMF is a command-sponsored, chaplain-led initiative designed to help meet the spiritual and life needs of service members and their Families by partnering with religious, faith based, and civilian organizations in the local community. The Forum fosters collaboration and information sharing for faith-based services, programs, and resources. For instance, the most recent SFMF was held at the USARCENT Headquarters building on Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina on May 21 and was sponsored by the Commanding General, Lt. Gen. James Terry, hosted by the Command Chaplain, Chaplain (Col.) Jonathan C. Gibbs III, and discussed the topic of "Perspectives on Marriage Ministry." Previous Forums have been held on topics such as "Youth Ministry," "Surviving Spouse Ministry," and "Resources for Resilience."
Participants in the May 2014 forum learned about the "phases of deployment" from presenter Chaplain (Maj.) Matt Hall, Family Life Chaplain at Fort Jackson, SC. One participant said, "I'm surprised to learn that the type of ministry required for our military changes drastically and rapidly depending on which phase of a deployment a couple is in."
Retired USAF Chaplain, Col. John Linsky, now serving as the senior Priest of St. Peter's Catholic Church and School in Columbia, SC, provided a Catholic perspective on marriage ministry with an emphasis on laying a foundation for a solid marriage and resiliency in marriage to an imperfect spouse.
Pastor Todd Fleming of Alice Drive Baptist Church, Sumter, SC, closed out the Forum with an engaging discussion about the effectiveness of non-clergy-led marriage support groups in helping married Soldiers confront and overcome embarrassing real-life issues in marriage. At the conclusion of the event, one local religious leader said, "I heard three different perspectives of Family ministry for marriages today. I'm going to take this information back to help our military Families know they can succeed and not fail after so many hard deployments!"
The SFMF will continue to build relationships between chaplains and other support agencies as well as with Soldiers throughout the upcoming years at USARCENT. Strong relationships like these can be a key resilience factor for Soldiers and their families. When faced with increasingly complex ministry to Soldiers, sponsoring events like the SFMF is a 'best practice' for Unit Ministry Teams seeking to leverage community support in caring for Soldiers and their Families.