Create a Veteran Friendly Congregation
By Jim Goodson
The Brotherhood of St. Andrew has been a driving force behind the creation of Veteran Friendly Congregations, which are easy to start and can have a lasting impact on both veterans and congregations that honor them.
“Veterans are the kind of people you’d seek if you wanted a strong, healthy congregation,” VFC founder The Rev. Robert Certain says. “Veterans place others before self, are loyal, persevere in adversity, both lead and follow well, adapt to changing leaderships and environments, must excel at situational awareness, have a broad world view and possess a wide range of skills.”
The Veteran Friendly Congregation concept was created at The Episcopal Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Marietta, Georgia, where Fr. Certain was rector. Sixty-six of the nation’s 84 VFCs are in Georgia.
“For some reason, Georgia has the sixth-largest number of returning veterans – and is in no way the sixth-largest state,” Fr. Certain said.
Others are in Tennessee (12) and one each in Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, Louisiana, California and Florida. VFCs are in Episcopal (26), Catholic (13), Lutheran (11), Non-denominational (10), Baptist (8), Presbyterian (7), Methodist (6), AME (2) and Jewish (1) congregations.
Veteran Friendly Congregations are needed for many reasons; chief among them are the large (20 percent) number suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and Traumatic Brain Injuries (17 percent) and their accompanying financial impact – a major problem itself.
“Simply having a welcoming place is a tremendous help to them,” Fr. Certain said. “Once onboard, their various skills and talents will start to surface.”
Although you want your rector’s ‘thumbprint’ on the program, a lay leader – perhaps a veteran – should be in charge, Fr. Certain said. “This is not something you want to dump on your rector’s already-full plate,” he said.
An ironic fact is that many of the veterans helping promoting veteran-friendly congregations served in Vietnam. Many of the Brothers raised their hands when Fr. Certain asked if there were Vietnam War veterans in the Philadelphia Airport Marriott conference room, site of a recent Brotherhood conference.
At least 10 Brothers responded affirmatively, including new Brotherhood President Jeff Butcher.
“Vietnam War veterans remember the lack of respect they encountered and they are among the leaders in the VFC movement,” Fr. Certain said. “They want to make sure current and future veterans don’t experience what they did.”
Today’s veterans must overcome the negative impact of multiple deployments, both to them and their families, Fr. Certain said. Other serious problems include post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries, suicides and suicidal ideations, addictions and military sexual traumas.
“Modern technology can have a negative impact on spouses,” Fr. Certain said. “Thanks to cell phones and computers, soldiers can update and inform their spouse on a day-to-day basis. This increases their anxiety and brings about feelings of helplessness.”
The book Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal by John Sippola offers methods churches can use to develop a veteran friendly congregation.
“Do not make this a vestry-run program. Find someone – perhaps someone in your chapter – who can turn your church into a Veteran Friendly Congregation. You could even be an anchor church in your diocese. You’ll make a big difference.
“55 million of the veterans coming home are unchurched,” Fr. Certain said.
The Rev. Robert Certain can be reached at email@example.com.
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A soldier greets his wife upon returning from active duty.
Photo courtesy Episcopal Church of St. Peter and St. Paul