Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

A Seachange in our Faith

Rev. Kit Ketcham, a UU Minister, fellow blogger, and in some ways a kindred spirit has recently observed on her blog how UU’s and UU Congregations seem to have trouble reaching out to military personnel. Her article apparently was inspired in part by conversations she has had with fellow ministers on this issue. It is an issue close to my heart.

It is interesting for me to think of this, because my perspective is so multi-faceted on the issue of how UU’ism is learning to relate to the military. I remember the time when just the fact that I was a veteran brought people to question whether I was really a UU. I remember the first time I publically mentioned the possibility of military chaplaincy, and someone challenged my right to call myself a member of this faith. I know that many UU’s who are servicemembers have had similar experiences over the years, and that many of those experiences have been deeply hurtful. To paraphrase Maj. Greg Rouillard (ret.), it is just as hard to be Military in UU as it is to be a UU in the Military.

Yet, in the last two years, there has been a seachange in our faith’s relationship with the military, at least at the denominational level. Not only has there been an unswerving policy and position of support for UU’s in the Military and for UU Military Ministry from associational leadership, but that support has begun to have practical applications.

So, from the perspective of one deeply involved in the issue of our faith’s relationship to the military, I thought I would share with you all some of the things that I think signal that we are turning a corner on this issue, at least at the associational level. These changes and programs give me great hope that we will inspire similar change in our congregations, and there are even a few congregations we have begun to see such change in.

1) New UUA Policies on Military Chaplaincy and the formation of the Committee on Military Ministry.

In 2006, inspired by her own doctoral project on UU attitudes towards police and military chaplaincy, Rev. Dr. Lisa Presley had come across the reality that we did not, as an association, have very formalized policies on how we select, endorse, and support our military and federal chaplains. If you wanted to become a military chaplain, you worked on an individual basis with the department of ministry. There was no organization dedicated to selecting and recommending excellent candidates for endorsement, highlighting this call to ministry, or supporting and staying connected with our chaplains once they were endorsed and serving.

If you know Rev. Presley, then you know she is constitutionally incapable of seeing a problem without working to address it. So with UUA support, she put together a task force (on which I served) that researched how other denominations endorsed and supported their chaplains, as well as looked closely at the unique aspects of our faith and this ministry. In 2007, this task force produced a draft set of policies on how we as a faith endorse and support military and federal chaplaincy. These policies were approved by the UUA at the 2007 General Assembly.

The Committee on Military Ministry is the result of these policies. They serve by maintaining contacts with our serving chaplains, mentoring chaplain candidates as they are in formation, and help evaluate and make recommendations to the UUA Official Endorser of Military Chaplaincy, Rev. Beth Miller. In many ways, they serve our Chaplains and Candidates as a Committee on Ministry might in a congregation.

This also allowed for the publication on the web of a formal process for becoming a military chaplain of our faith, something that I believe has contributed to the astounding increase in the numbers of Military Chaplains and Chaplain Candidates in the last few years.

2) Servicemember’s Devotional Project.

Currently underway at an associational level is a fundraising effort. Its goal is to raise enough money to produce 20,000 devotionals of Liberal Faith that will be handed out free to our servicemembers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. While it is still in development, it will have meditations, readings, and materials from within our tradition and beyond, from our past and our present.

I know from experience that there are plenty of such devotionals, pamphlets, scriptures, tracts, and other materials being given to servicemembers everyday by denominations who are much more theologically conservative than we of Liberal Faith. I am excited by the prospect that I, while serving as a Chaplain, will have a Liberal Faith Devotional that I can give to servicemembers who walk a spiritual path that is more open, accepting, creative and inspired than the more conservative materials are suited to. If a congregation is looking for some way to support our servicemembers, supporting this project would be one such way.

3) Great Lakes Military Ministry Project

Now, for those of you who know me, or who read this blog regularly, then you know how intimately involved in this particular project I am. I was one of its founders, and I am currently its directing minister. The Great Lakes Military Ministry project provides Sunday Morning Unitarian Universalist worship services for the Basic Training recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. The project involves students of the Meadville Lombard Theological School, and members of the Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL in serving as worship generic imitrex tablets leaders. The project is supported by many of the congregations of the Chicago area, and by the leadership of the Central Midwest District of the UUA.

Since its beginning in January of 2007, well over 1000 navy recruits have attended the service, making it what Lt.Col. Seanan Holland (USMCR) calls “The most evangelical pulpit in Unitarian Universalism”. The messages are of hope and possibility, of identity and liberal faith, while at the same time introducing Unitarian Universalism to many who have never encountered it before. It also provides a spiritual home for the members of UU congregations who join the navy, while they go through the difficult transition that is at the heart of Basic Training.

The project also introduces many new ministers to the reality of faith in the military, and teaches issues of justice and compassion to our servicemembers. It gives seminarians valuable experience in leading worship and in pastoral care. The project pays travel expenses and worship materials, so if a congregation was looking for a way to serve servicemembers, to make real that “we support our troops” line, then supporting this project would be a wonderful way to do that.

4) Developing a new web presence

The Church of the Larger Fellowship is currently working with our military chaplains to develop a way to create online support, ministry, and community among the UU’s who serve in the military, veterans, and our military families. This project is in its early phases, but eventually it will allow much greater interaction than the current UU Military Ministries and UU’s in the Military websites.

5) Developing an online resource guide for congregations

The UUA Ministry and Professional Leadership Staff Group has on the drawing board a plan to create a resource section of the UUA.org website, to allow congregations to connect with information and resources about how they can care for servicemembers, military families, and veterans in their congregations and communities. One such resource that might be included is the U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains Guide for Civilian Clergy, which every minister should have on their shelf to refer to when an issue of ministry with veterans, families, and servicemembers arises. As we face the spiritual and pastoral results of the current conflicts in this world, this kind of pastoral ministry will become more and more vital in the decades to come.

David Pyle and Lou Portella at GA6) Military Support Groups in Congregations – UUniforms

There are some congregations leading the way in addressing the needs of veterans, military families, and servicemembers. One such program is the UUniforms program at the UU Church of Norfolk, VA. It is a military support group within the congregation, that not only works to support each other, but turns the “Can Do!” attitude of military life towards supporting the life of their congregation. Other congregations will find their own unique ways to support this aspect of our membership, but the program in Norfolk would be a good place for any congregation to start. And, as I know from personal experience, Lou Portella, the program founder, would be happy to speak with anyone about their experience in Norfolk.

7) Recognition of Military Ministry

It may not seem like much, but for those of us involved in military ministry, that this ministry is being recognized as an important ministry for our faith is a major change from what it was just a few years ago. Recently, Seanan Holland was awarded the Seminarian Award of the UUSC for his work with recruits at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Rev. Sinkford mentioned the importance of military ministry in his address to the Plenary of General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale, and even touched on how it had affected his own life and relationship with his son. There have been several recent articles in UU World. At GA this year, the Ministry and Professional Leadership staff group had a booth on Military Ministry, providing resources to ministers and congregations alike. It feels like we are coming out of the darkness and into the daylight, and that is a beautiful thing.

8 ) Military Voices Working Group on the Peacemaking CSAI

As our faith discerns how to build a just peace in this world, those charged with the research for this Congregational Study Action Issue intentionally sought the voices of Military UU’s… something that would probably never have happened a few years ago. I believe that the addition of these voices to the process has made it a richer and deeper exploration, and I commend those who made the decision to seek the voices of those who have served.
When I think back on the last three years, and on all of the above programs and changes, it warms my heart. I remember what it felt like before, when I was afraid to even mention at UU events that I was a veteran. Now, I spent a good portion of this General Assembly in uniform. A change has begun in our faith.

My hope is that it continues to radiate outward. My hope is that congregations find new ways to relate to the military, to the veterans sitting quietly in the pews, to those serving overseas, and to our ministers who wear military uniform. My hope is that the servicemembers see this change in our faith, and realize once again that they can find an accepting spiritual home in our congregations.

That is my dream… so may it be.

Yours in Faith,


3 Thoughts on “A Seachange in our Faith

  1. David, this is great. Thanks so much!

  2. There are many Religious Educators who have a family member in the military and often feel very marginalized in our congregations. I know one of my colleagues who was juggling her good work as a DRE, managing a family and had a spouse in Iraq when we met last at GA. Thanks so much for your good work and for writing about it here.

  3. David: Thank you for placing into context our role as a people of faith in the military. This is so important a task to broaden our perception of how our UU faith can be a presence to many serving our country.

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