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Church care plan for chaplains unveiled

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s first ministry care plan for churches whose pastors are called to active duty with the military will get its official launch at this year’s SBC annual meeting, June 23-24 in Louisville, Ky.

Keith Travis, director of the North American Mission Board’s chaplaincy and evangelism team in Alpharetta, Ga., said the plan outlines steps churches can take when a pastor or staff member has to serve as a National Guard or reserve chaplain.

“If they do mobilize and leave, it is difficult for churches and pastors to work out how they’re going to transition and what’s going to happen in that transition,” said Travis, who, as a pastor, was called to duty the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“This plan addresses all of those things,” Travis said.

The 67-page handbook was written by Jay Padgett, minister of music at Graefenburg Baptist Church in Waddy, Ky., as part of his doctor of ministry studies through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

“If it helps one chaplain or church, this plan will be worth it,” said Padgett, who is completing training this spring prior to heading to Iraq for the second time. Endorsed by North American Mission Board in 1999, he will serve with the Kentucky National Guard’s 103rd Chemical Battalion.

The plan, now posted at www.namb.net/chaplain, features extensive suggestions about steps churches can take before, during and after a pastor or staff member departs for duty. Among details it reviews are documents the chaplain should provide his church, information to provide the interim pastor, caring for the chaplain’s family and how to conduct a commissioning service.

Padgett hopes the plan also will help educate Southern Baptists about chaplaincy. While researching the document, he discovered that many Baptists don’t know that the mission board endorses chaplains and their qualifications or that their service is rooted in the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

Such information is relevant in helping church members understand that reserve chaplains act as missionaries in the same way as civilians who go to the mission field, Padgett said.

A six-member work group from Graefenburg Baptist Church helped Padgett develop the plan, brainstorming about the things the church did right during his first tour in Iraq and how it could improve.

“We had to keep outside the box,” Padgett said. “I had to think, ‘I am the senior pastor. How can we make a product that will help all sizes of Southern Baptist churches?'”

Graefenburg Baptist, interestingly, became the first church to use Padgett’s plan when it approved the two interims who will take his place; adopted policies related to his absence; and held his commissioning service.

“It enabled us to think through a lot of things we otherwise would have overlooked,” said Sanford Hill, Graefenburg’s senior pastor. “Now we are able to have a guide to help us through it.

“The good thing about this plan is it’s all-encompassing,” Hill added. “It helps churches and chaplains work out the details. It has suggestions on how to send him off and how to support the family left behind. It includes a lot of information on things you need to understand.”

Padgett experienced some of the positive aspects of church support when he served in Iraq in 2003-04, having received numerous cards, letters, expressions of prayer support and care packages while overseas.

However, he watched other congregations fall short. One chaplain’s church expected him to continue counseling members and tend to other church business while in the field, which Padgett called very stressful.

Others returned from active duty to learn their pastor’s position had been filled.

“Those things didn’t get talked about beforehand,” Padgett said. “One chaplain came back and the interim pastor had changed a lot of stuff. It really posed some problems for him. There are a lot of difficult issues the chaplain and churches have gone through, especially after deployment.”

Travis agreed, noting that pastors, staff members and congregations face as many adjustments once the reservist returns from the field as during his deployment.

“Even if the church allows the position to stay open, by the time the chaplain returns, the church and staff member have often moved in different directions,” Travis said.

The plan, which will be publicized at the upcoming SBC annual meeting via cards distributed to pastors, is part of a group of resources at www.namb.net/chaplain that will address post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues likely to face churches in the future.

NAMB has endorsed 3,048 currently active chaplains on behalf of Southern Baptists, including 1,200 who serve in various military capacities. Though no specific figures are available, Travis said several thousand reserve chaplains have been among the 600,000 National Guardsman deployed over the years.

Those figures mean Padgett’s care plan is a valuable addition to the website, Travis said. The points it brings out are worthwhile for all churches to consider, regardless of denomination, he noted.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a big hit for pastors and chaplains,” Travis said. “We’re bundling a lot of things to get into pastors’ hands so they have resources they know will work.”
Ken Walker is a freelance writer based in Huntington, W.Va.

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