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United Methodist chaplains connect at European conference

United Methodist chaplains connect at European conference

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

United Methodist chaplains connect at European conference

July 7, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0878}

NOTE: See a related commentary by the Rev. Terri Jones, a military chaplain, comments from military chaplains about their experiences and a related e-Review story “Military seeks ‘a few good’ pastors.”

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

United Methodist chaplains and their families, many of whom are stationed in various locations abroad, joined forces earlier this year when they gathered to support each other and worship God at the European Chaplains’ Conference in Germany.

The Rev. Scott Weichl baptizes an infant while serving as a military chaplain in Germany. Photo #08-0920. For longer description see photo gallery.

The Rev. Scott Weichl, who currently serves as an army chaplain in Germany assigned to NATO, with soldiers dispersed in 13 countries, attended the conference. Weichl is a full-connection elder of the Florida Conference. He served as pastor of two Florida Conference churches from 1986 to 1992.

Weichl said the annual European Chaplains’ Conference brings together United Methodist chaplains, family members and others interested in spiritual renewal and growth of ministers in military appointments. The conference, which was organized in part by the United Methodist Endorsing Agency in Nashville, helps chaplains experience the connectedness they need, Weichl said.
“Rarely do United Methodist chaplains have the opportunity to fellowship and process Wesleyan theological themes throughout the year due to deployments and the isolated locations we are often assigned,” he said. “… Without this connectedness chaplains can feel isolated and unsupported by the larger church body.”

Weichl added that “a disciplined life of the means of grace and times of reflection help me to remain focused on ministry and service in the military setting.”

Other chaplains attending the conference serve in Germany and Italy, as well as locations within the United States. Among the annual conferences represented were Louisiana, North Georgia, Eastern Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Central Pennsylvania, Yellowstone, South Carolina, Florida (represented by Weichl), Alabama-West Florida, North Texas, Detroit, Illinois Great Rivers, Texas and Ghana.

Weichl said an evening healing service at the conference was a key spiritual moment for him.

“The Sunday evening healing service with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil and prayer was powerful since it provided time to be made whole once again,” Weichl said. “We as United Methodists don’t seem to utilize this very meaningful worship service as a way toward spiritual formation, but it is powerful and rich with tradition.”

The Rev. Tom Carter, director of the United Methodist Endorsing Agency, said the annual retreat and visitation is offered in a relaxed setting with plenty of time for spiritual renewal and refreshment.

“The visitation is part of our ongoing support of our endorsed chaplains and pastoral counselors,” Carter said. “We presently endorse/approve the ministries of 1,400 folks. This visitation and retreat helps to maintain the connection and show support for their ministries.”

Additionally, Germany Central Conference Bishop Rosemarie Wenner discussed her role as the first woman bishop elected outside the United States. The retreat also covered a three-step process of questions with the chaplains and their spouses regarding their spiritual journeys. Retired chaplain Richard Kuhlbars, author of “Silent Wounds – The Hidden Cost of War,” presented participants with copies of the book and offered his thoughts on how the soul is wounded by traumatic experiences.

Having been deployed twice to Iraq, Weichl says he personally experienced and watched the soul-wounding that sometimes comes with traumatic experiences.

“With or without a strong faith, one is changed through the experience(s) and must not only move forward with life, but also make sense of what has happened,” Weichl said. “Many times this causes chaos in the individual’s life since the experience is difficult to reconcile with daily living. The physical wounds and tragedy are addressed, emotional/psychological issues dealt with, yet the wounded soul is often neglected.

The Rev. Scott Weichl baptizes a soldier. Photo courtesy of Scott Weichl. Photo #08-0921. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

“Chaplains are finding their unique role in dealing with this aspect of our humanity, and this and other research is pointing in the right direction. This particular book speaks to the itch that many are trying to scratch.”

Support for a difficult job

Weichl commends all United Methodist church members and families for their day-to-day communication with and support of soldiers. He does hope the church will start a campaign of positive messages to media about the deployed troops in order to increase their morale.

“Could our church embark on a drive to flood the TV, radio, print, Web … with positive messages and stories, possibly encouraging other denominations and groups to insist on the same?” Weichl said. “This would greatly assist in troops feeling appreciated and supported, as well as possibly bringing the American public more fully behind the military members.”

Because Weichl serves in an area that is not seeing combat, his day-to-day ministry involves counseling and administrative and supervisory tasks. He spends his time assisting families of deployed soldiers with the challenge of being isolated from family and friends, as well as communication and basic financial and logistical issues. His constituents face many of the same challenges as other military families.

“Essentially the challenge is the same — deployments,” Weichl said. “These are depleting the energy levels of not only the soldiers, but the families, as well.”

Knowing that additional deployments are likely, he says, “stretches out this tension in the life of the marriage.”

Despite that tension, Weichl says “the resiliency of the family is awesome.”

“Spouses handle and deal with the daunting role of sole parent in admirable ways — often for the first time,” he said. “An added factor is an overseas assignment where language or culture may seem insurmountable, yet dealt with on a regular basis by these family members. The realization that ‘I can do this!’ is enriching to observe and be a part of.”

As for his own situation, Weichl said he and his wife, Peggy, are very comfortable with moving around, and they still own a home near Fort Campbell, Ky. They have moved eight times in 16 years, and their children are grown. When deployed, they often live off-base in order to become members of the community-at-large.

“This ministry setting is not for everyone,” Weichl said. “The physical demands and separation from family on a regular basis are difficult at best; however, God has blessed me with an awesome spouse, Peggy, who understands these challenges as part of our overall ministry to God and The United Methodist Church.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.