Service and Military Chaplaincy

Major Seanan Holland, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (right), administers the oath inducting his fellow UU seminarian, Second Lt. David Pyle (left), into the Army Chaplain Candidate program.

We all know that we live in a pluralistic world—including a world that is religiously pluralistic. Probably no one lives in that world as fully as chaplains that serve the military, hospitals, hospices and prisons.

Unitarian Universalist ministers are particularly well suited to chaplaincy in our multi-faith society. We already respect and affirm the wisdom and value of all religious traditions. We are, in a very real sense, a multi-faith faith.

One of the great opportunities we have to share the gift of our broad perspective is in the military. The military is probably the most ethnically diverse and religiously pluralistic institution in America. Soldiers, especially the youngest ones, confront situations that try their souls.

A few years ago the UUA published Bless All Who Serve, a meditation manual for those serving in the armed forces.

Today there are ten UU military chaplains. That is up from only five in 2007. Three of our chaplains have been deployed to Afghanistan during the last year.

I am especially proud that the Rev. Sarah Lammert, who leads our Ministries and Faith Development staff group, is taking a leading role in nurturing military chaplaincy. Sarah will be serving as the chair of the organization of “endorsers”—denominational officials who certify chaplains. This is an amazing honor and an opportunity.

Sarah also serves in the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, a group dedicated to the full inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual people in the military. Again, our faith tradition has a long history as a leader in this area.

Like many UUs who came of age during the era of the Vietnam War, I have often been wary of our military establishment. Like many UUs, I was critical of our government’s war in Iraq.

However, we must never let our advocacy for peace or our criticism of foreign policy spill over into a lack of compassion for the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Indeed, these days those who serve are more likely than ever to be people of color and people from lower social and economic backgrounds.

Military chaplaincy is an important and essential ministry today. I am proud of the work our UUA is doing. You should be proud, too.

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