Most Americans assume that spiritual ministry to military members and their families is carried out by a U.S. military chaplain. In contrast, WELS Military Services strives to equip WELS congregations to serve military members when they are stationed nearby. It is rare to find a church body focused on equipping churches for local gospel and fellowship ministry to military personnel and their families, but civilian ministry to the military is a cornerstone of WELS Military Services’ work.
Across the nation, 125 WELS churches near military installations and their pastors (called Military Contact Pastors) are appointed to reach out to serve the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.
April 26-28, the WELS Military Services Committee held its annual Military Contact Pastors Workshop at Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga., near Army Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. Members of the Military Services Committee met with a group of WELS Military Contact Pastors to discuss ministry to the military with Fort Stewart chaplains and military personnel, including WELS members Lt. Col. Michael Hefti and his wife Katie, who described the stresses of military life and the importance of their WELS pastors and church family in supporting them spiritually.
Every year, attendees look forward to the opportunity to visit a military installation. Fort Stewart extended extraordinary hospitality to the group by holding a meeting attended by more than a dozen of the post’s military chaplains. The chaplains explained their work and the retreat attendees spoke to them about the unique needs of WELS military personnel for religious accommodation. Fort Stewart representatives explained family resources available to military members. The official program ended with a demonstration of how a worship service in the field would be set up, and a visit to 3rd Infantry Division Museum on the post.
The annual workshop is sponsored through a generous grant from the Lutheran Military Support Group, a national organization of WELS and ELS veterans. The Lutheran Military Support Group also sponsors free professional Christian counseling for military members served by WELS Military Services and WELS and ELS veterans.
Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Special Ministries, said, “Of all the Military Contact Pastors workshops, this year’s meeting was superior. Fort Stewart’s chaplains went the extra mile to create mutual understanding. They were impressed by the WELS desire to serve military personnel and they made every effort to help us in that regard. Our attendees are always highly motivated by the speakers, but we had some outstanding presentations that I hope will improve our ability to serve military members with the gospel while helping them carry their burdens.”
Rev. Paul Horn, chairman of the WELS Military Services Committee, notes that the key to serving more WELS members in the military is through referrals from their loved ones, which they can do by going to wels.net/refer. “When we know who our WELS military members are and where they are stationed, we can better serve them with Word and Sacraments.” Horn adds, “When our congregations are aware that military families are in their church, the best thing they can do is to assimilate them into the mission and ministry of the congregation as quickly as possible. Military families move often. Making your church their church home will provide much needed encouragement and support.”
To learn more about WELS Military Services, visit wels.net/military.
For more information about the Lutheran Military Support Group, visit lutheranmilitary.org.