Navy Chaplains: A Community Dedicated to Building a Sense of Belonging and Fellowship

Predictability, Relationships and Meaning are Principles of Stress Control and Resilience. Chapels are familiar gathering places for many military kids and they can provide a safe place to meet others faced with the similar challenges of household moves and deployed parents. Navy Chaplains are a great family resource because they understand the stressors of military life and know how important community is to building a stronger and more resilient Navy.                                                                                                     (NavyNavStress.com Note)

By Cmdr. William E. Middleton, a Navy chaplain
Military kids serve alongside their uniformed parents and our role as chaplains includes addressing their needs as well.  Our shore based chapels often function as a community center where child focused activities include religious education, rites of baptism and communion, and sacraments from various religious traditions. Chaplains also offer chapel space for Scouting programs, home school groups, Vacation Bible School programs and other community organizations in installations around the world.  For newly transferred families, a military chapel can be a place to start building that important sense of belonging, of community and fellowship.

While our religious services and programs are very important to our service members and their families, the chapel provides a familiar and safe place for kids to connect with other military kids.  As chaplainSailor and family for Chaplain Posts we know how important maintaining contact can be and we help families keep in touch through the United Through Reading.  The program invites all deploying service members to record themselves reading stories to their children and then a DVD is mailed home to the family. Chaplains facilitate this program on ships at sea and coordinate with USO’s around the world, even down range, to maintain this important connection between parent and child.

As chaplains we don’t work alone. If a battalion chaplain is deployed, he or she can reach back to our regimental chaplain for assistance to help a family or child in crisis or a ship’s squadron chaplain can reach back to the shore-based ministry center for help. By connecting families with local resources like the Navy Ombudsmen or Marine Corps Family Readiness Officers, our chaplains serve service members by helping families at home navigate the daily demands of military family life.  Knowing their families are cared for, our deployed Sailors and Marines can focus on the job at hand.

Coming home can be nearly as unsettling as leaving. Preparing the service member for a reunion with their children is another important role for chaplains. Return and Reunion discussions assist service members in preparing for the dramatic transition from the tension and stress of deployments and combat to the routines of family life.  Since chaplains deploy with the units and have served families at home, they understand the challenges of both sides in the reintegration process and can offer guidance to ease the family’s transition.

Finally, the Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation (CREDO) program, the flagship program of the Navy Chaplain Corps, has offered Family Enrichment Retreats and Marriage Enrichment Retreats since 1971.  These specialized retreats are free for service members and families and are designed to build stronger military families, taking into account the unique challenges of deployment and frequent moves during a military career.  These include unique father-son and mother-daughter retreats. CREDO is currently expanding with more sites and facilitators around the globe, including the new site in Naval District Washington that I oversee. To learn more about our retreats, visit http://www.chaplaincare.navy.mil to identify the closest CREDO center in your area. Almost every site also has a Facebook page you can use to register for retreats.

Navy chaplains have answered the call to serve since the beginning of America’s military. They continue to inspire hope, resiliency and foster a sense of community for today’s military members and their families.

About the Author: Cmdr. William E. Middleton, a Navy chaplain is the current CREDO Director for Naval District Washington. He has served in the Navy Chaplain Corps for 18 years. Middleton deployed to Iraq as an individual augmentee in 2008 with the Iraqi Assistance Group, Task Force Tusken.

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