Rocking gently on a quiet porch surrounded by the serene beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Rev. Victoria Kelly couldn’t have been farther from the daily rigors of chaplaincy with a carrier air wing group in the U.S. Navy.

“Coming here has been really helpful,” Kelly said. “It’s nice not being in uniform for a few days.”

Kelly was one of some 60 active duty and retired Presbyterian military chaplains who gathered for several days of rest and renewal at the annual Chaplains’ and Families’ Conference and Retreat, sponsored by the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP). 

This year’s event was held at Bonclarken, a conference center of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), one of the three Reformed denominations partnered with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in PCCMP’s ministry.

Conference leadership featured the Rev. Tracy Radosevic, dean of the Academy for Biblical Storytelling, and Chaplain Col. Douglas O. Jones, USAF (Ret.), former coordinator of the General Synod of the ARP. A powerful service of worship with Communion brought the event’s official programming to a close July 9.

“Historically, this retreat has been very important for helping to keep Presbyterians connected, and to allow for networking among junior and senior people,” said the Rev. Edward T. Brogan, director of the PCCMP, which selects, sends and supports chaplains “loaned” to the Armed Services by their respective denominations. 

“Although our retreat attendance was somewhat down this year due to the pressures of both the war and the economy, our intentional coming together as a community, regardless of size, is critical to our support efforts to chaplains and their families,” Brogan said.

Supplementing the ministry of presence provided by the annual retreat, Brogan and Thomas K. Chadwick, PCCMP’s associate director, are regularly on the road visiting and spending time with each Presbyterian military chaplain.

For the Rev. Jan Koczera, a chaplain with the New Jersey National Guard and associate pastor for evangelism at First Presbyterian Church of Hamilton Square, NJ, and his wife, Kathy, the retreat represented a kind of reunion. On June 1, Koczera returned from his third tour in Iraq.

“With repeated deployment to war zones, there is an increase in mental health issues,” said Koczera, noting how hard this most recent homecoming has been for him because of the cumulative effect of his three tours in Iraq. “It is helpful for us both to be here, to share our experiences with those who most understand.” 

For the Rev. Robert and Sarah Rose — both 30 years old — and their four children, ranging in age from 5 months to nearly six years, the retreat was the first vacation that they have been able to take together as a family. 

Rose, who serves as pastor of West Hebron United Presbyterian Church in Salem, NY, is also an Air Force reserve chaplain.

“This is the first time we were able to take a week straight,” said Sarah Rose.

In addition to the family time, Robert Rose valued the networking opportunity afforded by the retreat.

“I have definitely been drawing on the resources of the older chaplains, both as ministers and as a family,” he said.

The Rev. Marcia Clark Myers, director of the PC(USA) Office of Vocation — a shared ministry of the General Assembly Mission Council and the Office of the General Assembly — which resources and supports the PCCMP, commended the annual retreat as an important time for the denomination to provide pastoral care to Presbyterian chaplains.

“Thanks to mission dollars provided by the General Assembly Mission Council through the Office of Vocation, our Presbyterian chaplains and military personnel receive the unique and welcome gift of continuing education, rest and relaxation at this annual retreat,” Myers said. 

“Because of the General Assembly Mission Council’s commitment to this specialized ministry,” she added, “we are able to provide significant pastoral care for those who faithfully serve God and country through the military, dealing daily with the enormity of human suffering.”

Chadwick also emphasized the retreat as an opportunity for chaplains to expand their horizons.

“Our retreat allows for a venue where Navy chaplains can meet their Air Force counterparts, Army chaplains can meet V.A. (Veterans Administration) chaplains. 

“At the retreat, ‘Navy-ness’ or ‘Army-ness’ is less accentuated than our shared ‘Presbyterian-ness.’ Here we sing from The Hymnbook and share Communion as Presbyterians,” Chadwick said. “It’s a time to recharge our ‘Presby’ batteries.”