A029 Support for Military Chaplains
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring,
That the 80th General Convention commends the ministry of The Episcopal Church’s military chaplains, who bravely tend to the spiritual and religious needs of United States Armed Forces service members as pastors, priests and preachers; and be it further
Resolved, That the Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries, in addition to tending to chaplains serving in federal prisons and hospitals, continue to uphold The Episcopal Church’s leadership role in forming and supporting military chaplains to respond to the challenges facing today’s military personnel, including extended exposure to violence, injustice, hatred and hardship; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention affirms the 2001 “Declaration of the Episcopal Church’s Understanding of Ministry to the Armed Forces”, including Episcopal military chaplains’ commitment to love and serve members of all faith groups, and to ensure access to the free exercise of religion within the constraints of military service; and be it further
Resolved, That Congregations engage with military chaplains so as to learn from their experience with global mission and interreligious dialogue, and from their example as an embedded servant ministry proclaiming and portraying the Gospel beyond the church; and be it further
Resolved, That the Standing Commission on World Mission collaborate with the the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to choose an appropriate day for observance of the Church’s military chaplains, and consider developing a collect and suggested lectionary for observance of Military Chaplains Day for authorization by the 81st General Convention.
Approximately 150 ordained Episcopal ministers currently serve as military chaplains and commissioned officers in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, both active duty and reserves, as well as with the National Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol, State Defense Forces (Georgia) and Veterans Administration hospitals. The Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries tends to these military chaplains, as well as to chaplains serving in federal penitentiaries.
Many Episcopalians may not be aware of this important ministry of the church, which dates to the Revolutionary War when General George Washington appointed Episcopal priest John Hurt as the nation’s first Army chaplain. Rev. Hurt was ordained on December 21, 1774; this date, signifying the Episcopal Church’s unique longstanding leadership role within the U.S. military chaplain corps, is one option the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music may consider in responding to the final Resolved of this Resolution calling for a day of observance.
In January 2001, the Bishop Suffragan for Armed Forces and Federal Ministries and twelve serving chaplains composed a statement of understanding of Episcopal Church ministry within the military context. This “Declaration of the Episcopal Church’s Understanding of Ministry to the Armed Forces” is referenced and affirmed in this Resolution, and is copied in full below. The purpose of the statement was to clarify the parameters of the role of Episcopal Church chaplains; chaplains are currently urged to utilize it when interpreting to new commanders and supervisory chaplains their role as priests serving in the uniformed service.
In bringing forward the ministry of military chaplains and the Bishop Suffragan, the Standing Commission on World Mission intends to highlight in particular their contribution to the church’s global mission, including enhancing interreligious understanding and ministering to service members deployed overseas.
Declaration of the Episcopal Church’s Understanding of Ministry to the Armed Forces:
Clergy of the Episcopal Church are ordained to fill the roles of pastor, teacher and priest. The Episcopal Church expects its chaplains to fulfill those roles in as broad and inclusive a manner as possible while remaining faithful to the church’s historical, theological and liturgical roots in both Roman Catholicism and the English Reformation.
As pastors, Episcopal military chaplains love and serve all of the people among whom we work. We preach and teach the faith of the church in Protestant and other services as opportunity permits, remaining flexible in form yet consistent in upholding the traditions of the Episcopal Church. Caring for all and committed to the free exercise of religion by all we cooperate with chaplains of all faith groups to ensure access for the free exercise of religion and religious accommodation within the constraints of military service. In this way, we try to feed those of God’s people whose spirituality, theology, or liturgical practice diverges from ours.
For Episcopalians, the Eucharist is the central act of worship. All baptized persons are welcome to join us in this sacred mystery. We gather in community to be nourished in Word and Sacrament. The Bible, reason, and tradition inform and shape the Eucharist through which we have communion with our Lord and by which we are invigorated for mission.
Present divisions in the body of Christ cause us much pain. We look for the day when all are one in Christ. Until then, we live with those divisions and the unavoidable, resulting constraints. Sacramentally, Episcopal chaplains can only function in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer, the Canons of the Episcopal Church and the guidance of the Episcopal Bishop. Only clergy from churches in communion with the Church of England can conduct Episcopal services.
We, the undersigned Priests and Bishop of the Episcopal Church who minister to the Armed Forces, are thankful for the ministry entrusted to us and ever mindful of our need for God’s grace and mercy for ourselves and with those to whom we minister in this challenging, pluralistic environment.
Washington National Cathedral, Feast of the Confession of St. Peter the Apostle, In the Year of our Lord 2001
Composed and signed by Bishop George E. Packard, Chaplains Carl M. Andrews, Gerald J. Blackburn, Dedre Ann Bell, S. Michael Bell, George M. Clifford III, Robert W. Eldridge, Reese M. Hutcheson, Roger D. Kappel, James B. Magness, Richard D. Oberheide, Gary L. Parker, and Malcolm Roberts III.