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Remembering the fallen

Remembering the fallen

ORLANDO – Church offices across the Florida Conference are closed in observance of Memorial Day, but for many, Monday will be much more than a holiday.

At First UMC, Oviedo, for example, the congregation's Military Support Team is again commemorating the sacrifices of service men and women by participating in Fallen Floridans' Memorial Cross Tribute at the Lawton House Grounds, 200 W. Broadway, Oviedo.  Nearly 400 crosses, each bearing a hand-crafted wreath, commemorate the lives of men and women who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. A Memorial Day ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, and the display will remain open to the public through Tuesday, May 26.

Large yellow ribbon tied around an oak tree outside a church sanctuary

First UMC, Winter Park, commemorates the sacrifices of military personnel all year round with Yellow Ribbon Sunday. Photo from the Military Outreach Ministry Facebook page.

First UMC, Winter Park, has a military outreach ministry that remembers men and women in uniform on the last Sunday of every month by tying a conspicuous yellow ribbon around a tree outside the church.

Here are some more ideas, adapted from a 2011 article by Barbara Dunlap-Berg of United Methodist Communications.

1. Pray for all who have given their lives for our freedom. "The major emphasis of the Memorial Day worship time," said Rev. Alan Brown, Hayes Memorial UMC of Fremont, Ohio, "is not on a secular observance; rather, it is the message of the gospels and the sacraments of the church."

2. Read the names of fallen veterans, and toll a bell after each name is read. Rev. Walter L. Graves encourages people to read the names when they see a war memorial. "Remember," said the pastor of Reelsboro UMC of New Bern, N.C., "that was a person who had... dreams and desires."

3. Provide special worship music with a PowerPoint presentation. "My church has a slide show of friends and family, living and dead, who have served in the military," reported Leslie Haggs, lay leader at Angelica UMC in New York.

4. Offer a candlelight service.

5. Wave a flag. In 2011, youth of First UMC, Koppel, Pa., raised money to buy an American flag for all 225 residences in the little town. 

6. Lay a wreath. In Illinois, Malta UMC had a special worship service, inviting veterans of the community to pay tribute to fellow soldiers by marching as a unit from the church to the township library, where a wreath was dedicated.

7. Decorate veterans' graves. "After Sunday service," said Rev. Charlie Johnson Jr., a local pastor serving three congregations in the Lynchburg, Va., area, "we go into the church cemetery, remove the old flags placed on the graves of veterans last Memorial Day and replace them with new ones...We remember our active-duty military every Sunday during prayer."

8. Do a project for active troops. In Maine, North Searsport UMC parishioners joined with community members in a mission project to sew small pillows for military personnel. The project was in response to recent articles about soldiers having to pay for pillows on their flights.

9. Make military care packages.  The congregation of First UMC of Alice, Texas, brought items for military care packages to mail to troops serving overseas. "Many of us have loved ones who are serving in the military," member Stefany Simmons explained. "Each of us signed cards to include for the troops."

10. Learn about issues affecting veterans, including military mental illness. For example, South Shore UMC, Riverview, and Sun City Center UMC have supported a retreat for veterans and for surviving family of fallen military personnel called My Warrior's Place in Ruskin. 

– FLUMC managing editor Susan Green contributed to this article.