What does Operation Barnabas offer to the Reserve chaplain?
A new start
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, much of the focus of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Ministry to the Armed Forces (MAF) was on active duty chaplains. Reserve chaplains simply did not require a great deal of support. For most, their military ministry had no adverse impacts upon their congregations. Reserve chaplains did not deploy a great deal, and their work in the military was transparent to the congregation.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, that entire paradigm has changed. The Reserve community was called in large numbers, as were Reserve chaplains. Pastors in our congregations were recalled to active duty at an alarming pace. As those pastors returned to their congregations, MAF began to hear from those pastors and congregations. The pressures and challenges they faced were mounting.
The first response was to invite Reserve chaplains who had been deployed to the annual Lutheran Chaplains Conferences. At those conferences, the chaplains shared with MAF personnel their most pressing needs. One need quickly identified was their return to the congregation. How could we help facilitate their re-entry to the congregation and help care for them and their families?
The answer was the creation of Operation Barnabas, a joint effort by Synod’s two former national organizations LCMS World Relief and Human Care and LCMS World Mission’s Ministry to the Armed Forces (MAF) — now together under The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
The initial focus was to equip congregations to assist pastors who have been called to active duty as Reserve chaplains. The long-range vision was to develop a network of congregational support for all Reserve military who are LCMS members and for their families, from pre-deployment through active duty — but especially upon the soldiers’ return and re-adjustment to civilian life. Operation Barnabas’ first action was the creation of a stipend for congregations of returning chaplains.
Stipend upon return from deployment
The initial thrust of Operation Barnabas was to provide support to Reserve chaplains, their families and congregations during a deployment. The clearest expression of that support is a stipend to the tune of about $2,000 given to congregations of returning chaplains. Operation Barnabas suggests that when the pastor returns from deployment, his salary and benefits resume immediately. However, we suggest that the pastor only resumes his duties after an extended period of rest and relaxation with his family. To assist congregations in providing this care for their pastor, we have created this stipend. Some may wonder why such an extended period is needed.
Why a stipend and time off?
When Reserve units are recalled to active duty, they are not sent overseas immediately. Instead, they are sent to a base or post to hone their skills and prepare for the mission. Often times, the entire unit is examined under a microscope to insure that once on the ground, they can fulfill their taskings. Soldiers are examined on their skill, training, physical ability and so forth. When in country, the entire focus is on the mission.
When a pastor returns to his congregation, he also must prepare for his “mission.” He will resume duties in caring for the people of God. When he begins his “mission,” his entire focus should be on his congregation.
During the time immediately after a deployment, pastors are pulled in several different directions. These include:
- a desire to spend time and reconnect with his family.
- continued tasking from his military unit. He is their “pastor,” and for many returning service members, they will have significant challenges. One of the first people to get called in the days following redeployment is the chaplain. He will need time to “disengage” from his unit before he can give his complete focus to his congregation again.
- the need to “just be a guy.” That is, chaplains are emotional and spiritual caregivers, taking care of their troops. They should have the chance and opportunity to find a “father confessor” or someone who can feed and care for them spiritually.
There is a great desire on the part of the pastor to return to his flock — he is their undershepherd! But, in order to put all of his attention on their needs, he needs a bit of time off to disengage, relax and recharge. It seems ironic, but the best way to get a pastor back in the pulpit, ready to work as soon as possible, is to let him have extra time after his deployment.
Walking together through deployment
As we continued our dialogue with Reserve chaplains, we learned of a need to create a deployment plan for the entire congregation, as well as for the pastor’s family. Few members of a congregation have experience with military matters, and fewer have gone through a deployment. We needed to create a means to teach the congregation and the family how to create their own deployment plan.
Each chaplain should have a mobilization agreement. This document details expectations and courses of action should the chaplain be recalled to active duty, as well expectations for monthly and yearly drill periods.
When a chaplain learns of an imminent recall to active duty, he is encouraged to contact The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Ministry to the Armed Forces. If requested, MAF will dispatch an Operation Barnabas Counselor from your district or area to the congregation for a series of meetings.
First, the Operation Barnabas Counselor from your district or area will visit with the pastor and his family to assess their needs and desires for the deployment. What are their concerns? How can Operation Barnabas serve them? Etc.
Second, the Operation Barnabas Counselor then visits with congregational leaders. He will serve as a resource to assess their needs as well, and their concerns for the interim that pastor will be away. The counselor will attempt to help forge a deployment plan that will care for both the congregation, as well as the pastor’s family. In this planning, the counselor will also invite the circuit counselor and other district officials to join the effort to care for the congregation. They are the primary support for the congregation, and the Operation Barnabas Counselor will support their efforts with the congregation.
It is important to keep in mind that the Operation Barnabas Counselor is purely advisory. The direction and choices of action belong entirely to the congregation and the pastor. The counselor will simply share with those involved the manner in which other congregations and chaplains have approached their deployments, and suggest best practices derived from lessons learned.
Finally, the counselor will make himself available to the congregation at large. He can provide training and consultation with the congregation to prepare them for the deployment and for the support of pastor’s family during the deployment.
Charting the future
MAF began to examine the ways that we have supported our Reserve chaplains. For example, communication with our Reserve chaplains needed improvement. For example, Reserve chaplains have always been invited to Lutheran Chaplain Conferences, but many Reserve chaplains were unaware of that standing invitation. Active duty chaplains are eligible to receive travel and lodging expenses to these conferences, while Reservists are currently not eligible. (Efforts are currently underway to secure funding so that they WILL be eligible.)
Each LCMS district now has an Operation Barnabas Counselor. It is his task to help congregations investigate ministry to military families, and when a chaplain deploys, to serve as a resource for them. We suggest you speak to the Operation Barnabas Counselor in your district, and share with him your ideas and efforts in your community. Perhaps you can pool your resources and join in ministry.