In seminary I was a volunteer VA Chaplain. I served in VA hospital
that started taking in wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan – specifically,
traumatic brain injuries, prosthetics, and spinal and ocular injuries. I have
not talked much about my experience because what I saw, and the men and women
that I had the honor to serve, remain deep in my heart and soul. For instance,
one day I watched three Vietnam veterans, all in wheelchairs, teaching a 28-year
old how to use his chair, a new black one that still had plastic covering on the
wheels that matched the fresh bandages on his head and hands. That image still
tears me up inside so I’ll stop talking about it now.
The VA told chaplains they could pray but should refrain from
naming God in public prayers. (I wish I were making this up.) We could pray, “We
thank you for our country, be with us as we prepare for this day, Amen.” The
Episcopal tradition is more like this: “Almighty God, creator of all things, we
thank you for our country, send us your Holy Spirit to prepare us for this day,
in Jesus’ name, Amen.” I wrote in my journal I felt I wasn’t actually praying
when I wasn’t naming God. The hardest part was not ending in Jesus’ name or the
Trinity, as in “to God Almighty, through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who
lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and
ever. Amen.” I once presided over a public VA chapel service where I found
myself swallowing the words “… in Jesus’ name” at the end of each prayer. Later
that day, I remembered Jesus’ words, “Anyone who is ashamed of me I will be
ashamed of before the Father,” so I got on my knees and fervently prayed that
God would please forgive me. I shared this with my supervisor who suggested
perhaps God is bigger and more understanding than I thought. I told him about
the Anglican theology of prayer and he gave me the same answer – only this
time saying that perhaps God is bigger and older than “Anglican theology.”
From what I can gather, military chaplains are under the same rule
today. This morning I heard a radio story saying the House Armed Services
Committee had voted to stop restrictions on military chaplain prayers. They
decided that chaplains should be able to pray in the name of Jesus or their
faith’s deity at general events. Alas, this amendment is a part of a 2014
defense policy bill the House will vote on next week which itself is a part of a
$972 billion spending plan.
I am torn up on this. I don’t like Congress deciding matters of prayer. On the other hand, I am relieved to hear that chaplains may be given
One of the best publications of the Episcopal Church is
A Prayer Book for the Armed Services, 2008, a pocket-sized volume with many wonderful prayers, hymns, Psalms, Bible readings, and instructions on how to baptize, to pray for Christ to come into your life, to minister to the wounded, to say goodbye to someone who is dying, and even how to pray if you yourself are dying.
In the meantime, will you pray with me,
O God, bless our men, women and families in the Armed Services.
Visit and sustain the lives of all chaplains in their rounds, duties and
deployments. Give all who serve confident hearts in their work as peacemakers
and peacekeepers. Protect our nation and its people in these difficult times.
Never, Lord, let us abandon the character of righteousness in everything we do.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.