Saturday, October 7 will mark the 12 year anniversary of the American invasion of Afghanistan. The cost of this war is often measured in US troop casualties (2,000), wounded US military (17,644), Afghan civilian deaths (13,009), or monetary cost ($1,200,000,000,000.00). In the current issue of Liturgy, Christopher Grundy reminds readers of another cost to this conflict: the trauma experienced by returning soldiers who find it difficult or impossible to reinsert themselves into their former lives.
Though the military provides some services to members in the process of mustering out, Grundy observes that these services are nowhere near as all-encompassing (and effective) as the training process when one enters the military. He suggests that Christian congregations can be of significant assistance to returning service members by filling this gap in care, specifically by calling upon the liturgical traditions of the catechumenate, of reconciliation, and of healing.
Drawing upon the rich storehouse of liturgical tradition, pastors and congregations can provide a ritual/liturgical framework for the transition from the extremes of wartime soldiering to the ordinary habits of Christian living. Perhaps no other community, institution, or helping professional can call upon the same matrix of moral, spiritual, and liturgical authority to help retrain veterans for their lives of Christian discipleship after war.…For veterans who have had the habitus of military training and of combat driven deeply into the bone, a few words of welcome and prayer are rarely enough. At times in its history, the church has understood this. It has understood the kind of formation that returning veterans need in their transition after war. At other times it has forgotten. By adapting the liturgical traditions outlined here, congregations in this era can make a significant difference, adding a liturgical dimension to an overall ministry of care. Without presuming to know what a veteran needs, and with a patience that models God’s steadfast love, we can help to support a kind of basic retraining. We can help to map the transition, accompanying those who are laying down sword and shield as they make their way down to the riverside.
Grundy is quite straightforward about the need to apply the practices of catechumenate, reconciliation and healing in ways which are flexible and individual, rather than programmatic, and he full acknowledges the tension and ambiguity attendant upon lifting up the church’s care for returning service members alongside the church’s commitment to the way of peace. However difficult this sort of ministry might be, however, it is certainly an authentic and deeply necessary way in which the church in the United States can live out Christ’s mission of reconciliation.
Christopher Grundy (2012): “Basic Retraining: The Role of Congregational Ritual in the Careof Returning Veterans”, Liturgy, 27:4, 27, 35.
Rev.Christopher Grundy is assistant professor of preaching and worship and Coordinator of the Chapel at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is ordained in the United Church of Christ, and is a coauthor of The Workof the People: What We Do In Worship and Why, published by the Alban Institute (2006).