Presbyterian military chaplains share stories of combat, faith

July 3, 2012

Pittsburgh

Presbyterian military chaplains “are envied in the U.S. armed forces because of the support they receive” from the denomination’s Presbyterian Council of Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP), the chief of U.S. Navy Chaplains told a PCCMP-sponsored lunch here today (July 2) during the 220th General Assembly.

“Thanks,” said Rear Admiral Mark Tidd, a member of National Capital Presbytery. “One of the things the PC(USA) does so well is provide support to your chaplains around the world―many of them in harm’s way.”

Tidd also praised the PCCMP’s pastoral care for the families left behind by deployed military chaplains. “For many of these families, many of whom don’t really have a pastor, the PCCMP is the face of the PC(USA) and it means the world to us.”

That kind of pastoral care for chaplains and their families was told in riveting detail by the Rev. David Rodriguez, an ordained pastor for 27 years and a U.S. Marine reserve chaplain for 19 years. He has been deployed twice since 2005―to Iraq and to Kuwait.

“Deployment involves coping with a whole new set of skills and circumstances,” Rodriguez said. “Coming home is like a honeymoon … until the first fight. The bad news is that deployments are hard. The good news is there’s hope for families going through them,” he said. “God is there at work.”

For pastors like Rodriquez, deployments as chaplains can be very hard on congregations, too. “It was difficult,” he said of his first return from Iraq. “They’d moved on while I was gone and had made some bad decisions. I didn’t want to go through another transition like that after my second deployment so I tried to resign.”

The session persuaded Rodriguez to stay and the second transition was, indeed, more difficult that the first. Diagnosed with a mild case of post-traumatic stress syndrome, Rodriguez soon resigned. “It was just too hard to continue,” he said.

“There is hope in all this,” Rodriguez said, “because God is with us through all these troubles. Most of those returning from deployments will heal. Some of us need extra help and I’ve gotten it.”

Since 2008, Rodriguez has served a new pastorate in Southern California that he says is going very well.

PCCMP executive director Ed Brogan said 280 military chaplains are currently serving under PCCMP endorsement. “We’ve been through 11 years of war,” Brogan said. “It’s been a wearying time. But we’ve got some retired chaplains who are skilled pastors and administrators―they would make great church executives.”

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