One in fourteen Americans is a Veteran, but that percentage is likely to be even higher in your church: the majority of Veterans identify as Christian. And American Christians do a lot to show appreciation for our Military, past and present. On Veterans Day, many churches recognize their Veterans – by applauding them during services, hanging signs and banners of appreciation, and posting on social media. But while recognition is an important part of honoring the Veteran community, it’s just the beginning.
As church leaders or church members, we can do much more for the members of our community who have served in uniform. I understand that many don’t know where to start. I’m a Veteran Chaplain, having served for more than three decades as an Army chaplain. I had the privilege to live alongside America’s sons and daughters—making it my life mission to encourage their faith development. My years of experience have confirmed something you probably already know: our Veterans need the Church. With that in mind, here are eight ways your church can give back and tangibly honor Veterans this year:
Create a Veterans Bible study group. I work with American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry to help Service members, Veterans, and their families engage in Scripture and experience its transformative power. Providing Bibles and helping Service members is something American Bible Society has done for more than 200 years. We’ve seen firsthand and through research how Bible engagement supports Veterans in readjusting to civilian life, processing their Military trauma, and overcoming feelings of isolation. Giving your church’s Veterans a safe space to talk about the heavy weights they are carrying, the Bible, and their faith in the context of their Military service is a powerful gift. You can find Scripture engagement resources specifically for Veterans at armedservicesministry.org/veteran.
Support trauma healing for Veterans. Veterans carrying hidden wounds often reach out to their local faith community for support. The church can welcome them and help them take the first step in addressing issues like PTSD and operational trauma. One of the most important things we can do for our Service members is to provide a loving and supportive community for them to explore the Bible’s truths. We can help them experience the truth of Scripture: “God is my deliverer” (Psalm 54:4); “God is my strong refuge; he makes my pathway safe” (2 Samuel 22:33); “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). There are a number of faith-based nonprofits that run excellent trauma-informed groups for Veterans. Armed Services Ministry has created a series of Bible-based trauma healing resources for Veterans, which churches can use at no cost.
Pair a church member with a Veteran. Create a list of the Veterans in your church, especially those who are older and live alone. Loneliness can be a cause or consequence of depression, and in one study, 44% of Veterans age 60 and over reported feeling lonely at least some of the time. Start a Veteran “buddy” system by matching a church member with a Veteran to help with things like driving them to doctors’ appointments, dropping by for weekly visits, or delivering a weekly meal.
Host a Veteran or a Service member for Thanksgiving. This holiday season, more Veterans and Service members than ever won’t be traveling, which means many will be spending Thanksgiving alone. Find out if any Veterans in your church community are dining alone, and then match them with families in your church. If physically hosting someone is impractical/unsafe due to COVID-19 precautions, church members can don masks and deliver a Thanksgiving meal and a card. If your church is near a Military base, you can contact the Installation Chaplain’s office to locate Service members who could use some extra support on the holidays.
Visit the gravesite of a Veteran. Find out if you have a Veterans’ cemetery near your church. Lay a wreath or place a small American flag on a Veteran’s gravesite as you say a prayer for that Veteran’s family and for our country that they dutifully served. The Nationwide Gravesite Locatorallows you to locate Vets and their family members who are buried in a national, state, tribal Military, or Department of the Interior cemetery.
Encourage your Veterans to record their experiences. Writing has shown to be effective as a means for helping Veterans’ process trauma and honor their experiences. For others, it can be easier to capture their story over audio or video. Creating a written and oral history of the Veterans in your church can honor their service while providing important multigenerational connections.
Make cards for VA hospital. Find the closest VA hospital to you and contact them to see if they will distribute cards and/or care packages from your church. Engage the children in your church to help design them. Also, let your local VA hospital know that Armed Services Ministry will provide VA hospital Chaplains with regular and large-print Scripture resources, at no cost to them, that address the unique issues facing today’s Veterans.
Invite a Veteran to speak at a service. Invite your Veterans to speak about their experiences during a service. Many Veterans have moving stories of finding or keeping their faith through incredible trial. This is not only inspirational and educational for your church community, but it can be cathartic for Veterans as well.
The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated the economic strain as well as feelings of isolation, purposelessness, and grief experienced by many Veterans. This year, it is more important than ever to find creative ways to reach out to Veterans in your church and your community. Thank you for serving those who serve in this way.
Retired Army Colonel Gordon Groseclose served as U.S. Army Chaplain for 32 years before partnering with American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry to develop Scripture resources for Military members, Veterans, and their families. Learn more about the work of the Armed Services Ministry and available resources at armedservicesministry.org.