The quiet mountains of western North Carolina provide a magnificent setting for rest, relaxation and meditation.
Settled in those mountains is Montreat Conference Center, this year’s host of the annual retreat of the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel (PCCMP). The Aug. 6-9 retreat also provided chaplains and their families an opportunity to connect with others.
PCCMP is responsible for finding and endorsing Presbyterian chaplains for the armed services and provides assistance and support to chaplains and their families. The organization also represents the church in dealings with governmental agencies related to chaplaincy.
PCCMP views its work as mission, with candidates it endorses being sent all over the world to do outreach work. PCCMP also works to keep these military missionaries connected to their presbyteries at home.
“It would be great if congregations would embrace and help support these chaplains as their own personal missionaries as they often do with other mission workers,” said the Rev. Dr. Ed Brogan, director of PCCMP.
The retreat brings together chaplains of varied backgrounds and experience and gives them a chance to attend informational sessions and get to know other chaplains.
Morning sessions, led by the Rev. Sara Hayden, focused on the use of social media. Most of the soldiers chaplains minister to are very young, and the Internet — specifically Facebook and Twitter — is an important avenue of communication.
The chaplains, on the other hand, are a bit older, as they have spent years meeting military, educational and religious requirements to be in the job. Even chaplains who are closer in age to the soldiers still face a communication gap: they may know about social media, but Hayden stressed that using these tools effectively is important.
“It’s not about what you relate to as much as what those you want to reach relate to,” she said, encouraging the group to let go of traditional ways of communicating that aren’t working.
Chaplains find that many soldiers don’t identify with church or formal worship but still seek guidance on personal issues. While they do host Bible studies and worship services, military chaplains find that pastoral care is a much bigger part of their job. The key is to communicate in a way that bridges the gap between the pulpit and reality, to create a connection on personal issues.
“It’s really important because sometimes we’re their lifeline,” said the Rev. Don Wilson, associate director of PCCMP.
Spouses are welcome to sit in with the chaplains or join in on their own session, which also explored ways to use social media for support and communication.
“The wives want to be more directly included in communications where possible because they keep the family schedule,” said one of the spouses at the session. But communication can be complicated because of military confidentiality procedures.
The retreat was about more than just informational sessions — afternoons were purposefully left free to allow participants time to relax or enjoy each other’s company. Participants met up in the evening for dinner and worship.
This was the PCCMP’s way of conducting a little pastoral care of its own for chaplains and their families who so often have to cope with the stresses of military life.
Toni Montgomery is a freelance writer in Statesville, N.C., where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.