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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2012 Archives > November-December 2012 > America's Sunday Supper focuses on military

America's Sunday Supper focuses on military

By Kathy L. Gilbert

U.S. Army Chaplain John Branning leads a service of Holy Communion following a mortar attack in Taji, Iraq.
U.S. Army Chaplain John Branning leads a service of Holy Communion following a mortar attack in Taji, Iraq.
When people sit down to eat on Jan. 20, 2013, some of them will be in United Methodist churches, participating in America's Sunday Supper and talking about ways to support active duty military personnel, military families and veterans.

It will be a familiar conversation for members of Crystal Springs (Miss.) United Methodist Church.

Their pastor, the Rev. John Mark Branning, felt a calling to enlist as a military chaplain after he was appointed to the church. It was a call the whole congregation answered.

Branning is the one who served as a battalion chaplain in Takrit, Iraq, but the congregation made that possible by embracing the young pastor and his family. The church allowed his wife, Traci, who was expecting their third child, to remain in the parsonage during his deployment. Members were with Traci when it was time for her to give birth and set up a Skype connection so the pastor could be present for the delivery electronically.

"It went without saying that we were going to support his family. That was beyond question," said Paul Davis, chair of the church's pastor-parish relations committee. "We love his family very dearly."

Joining hands

This is the second year United Methodist Communications is joining the HandsOn Network and the Points of Light Institute for America's Sunday Supper, which was created to honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The event also coincides with The United Methodist Church's Human Relations Day.

The 2013 focus is supporting military personnel and military families. Supper organizers may address other local or global issues, if they wish. While the 2012 suppers were to encourage those attending to consider how they might address issues in their community, organizers hope the 2013 events will actually mark the beginning of ministries or projects.

Regardless of the focus, the goal of the suppers is for United Methodists to join hands with people outside their regular circle who also care about what is happening in their community. Free planning resources are available at

Churches large and small, near or far from military bases can do some simple things to reach out to the families left behind when a loved one is deployed.

United Methodist Chaplain Laura Bender, who serves at the United States Marine Corps Wounded Warriors Regiment in Quantico, Va., suggests several ways to start a conversation or begin a new ministry.

Identify the military families in your community. Are there any wounded veterans? Do their families need assistance with yard work, errands, childcare, respite care, transportation to appointments?

Consider a "veterans only" fellowship. Reservists and veterans, especially those living some distance from military bases, may find it difficult to find others with whom to talk about their military experiences. Veterans of combat especially need fellowship with other combat vets. Here's a model for beginning:

Identify the veterans of any war who are in your congregation.

Invite them to do a community service or building project or to attend an athletic event or a meal together. Include only veterans. Leave them alone. Let them talk.

Repeat, as desired. If a few are motivated enough to invite other veterans and plan other activities, you have an ongoing ministry. Even if they meet only a few times, you've helped identify those with whom they can confide.

Remember, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be especially tough. Military families move often and usually live far from extended family. As appropriate:

Invite them to an activity or meal with your family.

Give good community information – where to get the freshest real Christmas tree; when are the annual parades, concerts and festivals; accurate directions to off-site church events.

Ask what additional support they need through the holidays while their loved one is deployed. If they are reluctant to ask for help, do something nice to surprise them. Don't wait for a response.

Invite military family members to join others in the congregation in community outreach.

Evaluate how welcoming your church is to newcomers. Military families rarely live in a community for more than three years and often much less. Consider whether solos are offered only to long-time choir members. Are all children considered for parts in the church play? Can newer members be project chairs? Allow everyone to use their God-given gifts and talents.

Advocate for veterans' needs within your community and at regional and national levels.

Educate potential employers about the benefits of hiring veterans. Offer to mentor or provide apprenticeships to allow veterans to acquire new skills to help them transition to civilian employment.

Transcend your position on war or this war. Find ways to care for military members and their families in spite of your political or faith stance. Check how the congregation responds to military personnel attending worship in uniform.

Pray for military members and their extended families.

Find more ideas at

Begin now to plan Sunday supper for Jan. 20. Support military families, find a community project or just spend some time with people from diverse viewpoints to talk about your corner of the world and how to expand it.

Kathy L. Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

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