Like many Florida Methodists and the churches they attend, Jessica Petot of Palm Harbor holds Veterans in very high regard. So, to actually be standing on the plaza at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier brought tears to her eyes.
Petot participated in the laying of a wreath. She listened as commemorative rifle shots were fired. She watched the caissons—wagons carrying caskets, each pulled by beautiful white horses—rolling in the distance, for the funerals that were under way.
Hearing the clip-clop of the horses, she realized “this was why we do it. These people gave their lives and we need to honor them.”
Across The Florida United Methodist Conference churches are celebrating Veterans Day (Friday, Nov. 11) in a number of reverent ways.
|During a recent visit to Washington D.C., a group from Palm Harbor UMC viewed memorials from Vietnam, Korea and World War II. This wreath was placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.|
Palm Harbor United Methodist Church in Pinellas County started early. A group of 15 people from the church went to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., in October to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the Veterans group at the church.
“Palm Harbor UMC may be the Methodist church with the largest group of Veterans in the state,” church member Jim Hudson said. This was the first time the church had sent members to the tomb. Among the participants were Hudson, a hospitality coordinator on staff, and Petot, a member who manages church public relations.
“It was an out-of-body experience for me,” said Petot, who had been to the cemetery previously because two grandparents are buried there. “It's a very sacred place for me.”
The caissons came within 20 feet of the Palm Harbor group.
“I have never been so awed in my life,” said Hudson, an Army Veteran. “What a feeling it gave me. To see all the memorials — Vietnam, Korea, World War II, the Kennedy flame — it was breathtaking to me. But over the top was laying the wreath at Arlington, one of the cherished memories I will ever have. I've been about two feet off the ground, and I am not coming down real soon.”
Palm Harbor UMC also participates in Honor Flight of West Central Florida, which flies Veterans to Washington, D.C., to honor them. News of that experience convinced church members to visit the tomb for a day and to tour the nation's capital.
A video of Palm Harbor UMC's visit to the cemetery can be viewed on YouTube. The church will conduct a patriotic service to commemorate Veterans Day, while a pastor, the choir and students from their K-8 school will participate in a ceremony at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens in Palm Harbor.
“It's a very big deal around here,” Petot said. “We take Veterans Day, Memorial Day very seriously.”
Cookie ministry grows
Lee Barnes, a member of First United Methodist Church of Oviedo, leads the military support team. The ministry started eight years ago when a church member’s son was deployed forward. It has a roster of more than 130 interested participants.
At first, it was a cookie ministry: They baked cookies and shipped them overseas to deployed soldiers. Now, to spread the word of Jesus, they send prepackaged cookies and personal hygiene items.
Packages are sent to military personnel whether affiliated with the church or not. For Christmas they will send 860 to 900 handmade stockings filled with typical Christmas goodies overseas.
The ministry team also educates the church and community through monthly lectures and local events for fellowship and to raise the level of knowledge and interest in military support. Luncheon seminars typically are attended by more than 50 people and attract an audience beyond church members.
Veterans Day will be celebrated on Nov. 13 with a free luncheon for 300 people in the church gymnasium. A free Salute to Veterans concert by the Orlando Concert Band will be held after lunch in the sanctuary.
Honoring throughout the year
For Veterans Day, Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange will recognize Veterans during a worship service, showing a videotape and saluting the Armed Forces by asking former members of the various military branches to stand up and be recognized. The choir will sing a special song and a Veteran will do a special reading. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars post will present the colors.
Covenant typically also has a celebration with 150 free meals for Veterans and their families on New Year's Eve, but this year, because Dec. 31 falls on a Saturday night, they have moved that meal. It is now part of their Veterans Day week celebration.
The church also recognizes Veterans during Memorial Day each year. Members perform a musical and serve 300 complimentary Sonny’s Barbecue meals to Veterans and their families during the late May commemoration.
The Rev. Bette-Jo Foster, pastor at Covenant in Volusia County, said her nephew is a Navy Seal, so people who serve in the military are very important to her, as well as to members of her church.
“A lot of our congregational members are Veterans,” Foster said. “They are highly regarded and honored. When we're able to serve them, because they served us, it helps the whole congregation feel that they are helping to give back to them after they risked their lives for us.”
--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.