What a mixture of emotions this week!! We celebrated with Meghan and Harry delighting in Bishop Curry’s wonderful sermon – at the same time we grieved for the deaths of eight beautiful high school students and two dedicated teachers in Santa Fe, TX. And, of course, it’s Pentecost! Oh, how we need the Holy Spirit to guide us through these difficult days!! And before I go on to my topic for this week, let me share a link for Bishop Curry’s sermon if you didn’t get a chance to hear it on Saturday. Here is also a list of the victims of the shooting so that you can pray for them by name:
- Jared Black
- Shana Fisher
- Christian Riley Garcia
- Aaron Kyle McLeod
- Glenda Anne Perkins (teacher)
- Angelique Ramirez
- Sabika Sheikh (Pakistani exchange student)
- Chris Stone
- Cynthia Tisdale (teacher)
- Kimberly Vaughan
Today is the 21st of May which means that it’s time to #PrayFastAct again “For Such a Time as This.” This month we are focusing our attention on supporting our Veterans. Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) shared:
The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America continue our united call to Pray, Fast, and Act in support of good policies and programs that provide opportunities for and respect the dignity of all people.
This month we focus on programs that assist veterans and their family members. New investments and policies in recent years have helped expand veteran access to education, labor opportunities, healthcare, and housing. Still, too many veterans, active service members and their families still struggle with complex challenges—ranging from barriers to benefits to increased mental health risks. We must continue to support those of us who risk everything for the safety and wellbeing of our communities.
Studies from the Department of Veterans Affairs have found that 22 veterans take their lives each day— a rate 21 percent higher when compared to other civilian adults. Some factors, such as the on-going opioid epidemic, have also disproportionately impacted veterans, increasing demand for services among those seeking recovery and contribute to the many challenges impacting families. There is a great need to do more for veterans in our communities. Through chaplains, dioceses, and congregations across the country the Church plays a special role in welcoming returning veterans. Let us take action by asking Congress to protect programs that address the needs and equip veterans as they return from service.
Pray for those who have answered a vocation of military service and for their families; for the many military chaplains across the world who bear the witness of Christ in word and sacrament; for those who have lost their lives in service of our country and who are moved to harm themselves.
For Memorial Day:
We give you thanks, O Lord, for all who have died that we may live, for all who endured pain that we might know joy, for all who made sacrifices that we might have plenty, for all who suffered imprisonment that we might know freedom. Turn our deep feeling now into determination, and our determination into deed, that as men and women died for peace, we may live for peace for the sake of the Prince of Peace, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (based upon a prayer by Leslie D. Weatherhead)
For those who serve:
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces [and federal ministries] at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fast in remembrance of the sacrifices men and women in the armed forces make for our common good, and for their families who cope with daily challenges in the absence of their loved ones.
Act by urging our lawmakers to pursue innovative solutions and further address the challenges facing veterans.
One easy way to Act is to go to the EPPN page and fill in your contact information; then EPPN will send your support for veterans to the right people for you. It couldn’t be easier!
The Episcopal Church has also prepared some helpful background information for us:
Throughout the country, faith-based hospitals, long-term care providers, houses of worship, and other religious organizations provide critical services for veterans returning to civilian life. This tradition is often grounded in the healing ministry started by Jesus. While serving in active duty and receiving care at VA hospitals, service members are consoled by Episcopal chaplains serving under the guidance of the Bishop for Armed Services and Federal Ministries. In addition to direct service, engagement and community education, advocacy for veterans is a critical way in which people of faith can raise support in local communities.
Through newly enacted changes, more veterans are accessing healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) than ever before. In 2017, Congress also reauthorized and expanded GI Bill education benefits by $3 billion and offered substantial funding for veteran programs in the annual spending bill. But for all these advances, many veterans still face serious, often hidden challenges that fail to garner national attention and headlines.
Each returning service member has unique needs, ranging from education to mental and physical health care. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 40,000 veterans struggle with homelessness on any given night. Veterans are also nearly “twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers,” and continue to be especially hard hit by the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities. After almost two decades of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anti-terror operations around the world, a new generation of veterans brings an urgent need to strengthen funding for veteran services more than ever.
While there are many programs in the federal budget critical to assisting the work of individuals, chaplains, and congregations active in veteran affairs, here are some that are timely to raise in such a time as this:
- Department of Veteran Affairs: Provides a wide range of benefits designed for veterans, including but not limited to: medical care, disability compensation and pensions, education, employment services, home loans, traumatic injury protection insurance, and more. Supporting strong topline numbers for the department ensure agencies have the resources they need to provide essential services. It is also often important for veterans to receive services from the VA because civilian providers lack expertise in veteran health.
- Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH): Provides permanent supportive housing for veterans struggling with homelessness. This program is extremely effective — with some reports finding that HUD-VASH has a one-year cost savings of approximately $6,000 per participant on health services and other positive outcomes. While there has been a steady decrease in veteran homelessness since 2010, more needs to be done to end homelessness.
- The Opioid Response: In 2017, the Administration officially named opioids a public health emergency and commissioned a nationwide system of easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain. But pursuing further initiatives, particularly in addressing the unique needs of veterans, has garnered limited attention in Congress. More must be done to incentivize federal innovation and investment in addressing the needs of communities. Congregations can also play very important roles in direct engagement. Hosting local events, such as 12-step recovery groups, is often an essential and much needed service in communities. Training videos and resources for clergy and churches interested in engagement can be found on the Veterans Affairs webpage, and Episcopal Church specific resources can be found here and here.
Here are some additional resources:
- Learn about additional opportunities for congregations to assist veterans in your community at the faith-based office of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
- Learn more about the Episcopal chaplaincy in VA hospital settings or in the military.
- For resources to support veterans in your region, please contact the Episcopal Veterans Fellowship (EVF).
- VA Resources for Clergy and Faith Communities
- VA National Center for PTSD Clergy Toolkit
- VA Office of Mental Health Services: Overview of substance use resources
- The brave women and men offer their service for our country that we might maintain the freedoms to which we have become accustomed. Let us, in turn, offer our support for them that they all might know our appreciation and respect.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we give thanks for military men and women, both from the past and present, and for their courageous service and sacrifice to our country and its people to secure the blessings of life, liberty, and justice for all. May our remembrance be a timely reminder that our freedom was purchased at high cost, and should not be taken for granted. Guide us to give them the respect and honor they deserve as well as the support and care that they need. Give us resolve to labor in faithful service to you until all share the benefits of freedom, justice, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council