Local churches help fulfill needs of veterans

It’s often hard for veterans returning from active duty to adjust back into everyday civilian life.

For some, it’s also hard finding acceptance at a time when wrestling with the past can lead to feelings of emptiness and hopelessness.

But members and leaders of Charlotte-area Episcopal churches want veterans to know there is life after war, and love when you sometimes feel it’s undeserved.

The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in south Charlotte and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Monroe will host a worship service of thanksgiving and homecoming in honor and support of veterans, active military and their families Sept. 7, a Saturday, at noon. The services, which follow the same outline at both locations, are part of a local Episcopal Church movement to respond to the spiritual needs and questions veterans have.

“We know many people have lost loved ones. We know many people come back with injuries and other trauma. And many people come back with other kinds of memories (and) spiritual questions like, ‘What did it mean that I killed someone? Do I still have a place in the heart of God?’” said Sarah Rieth, priest and pastoral psychotherapist at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. “We want people to know that God loves them, God accepts them and that we
care.”

The initiative started with Linda Goodcliffe, a Navy veteran and member of Christ Episcopal Church, who said in a news release it was the assurance she received from the church that God is still loving and welcoming that helped heal the scars from her military service. That’s why she brought the idea of a veterans’ ministry to church leaders. So far, the bishops and clergy of the Diocese of North Carolina have supported Goodcliffe’s work and the initiative.

For more than a year, Rieth and a group of committee members worked with Goodcliffe to research and articulate what a veterans’ ministry should actually look like, talking with veterans both in and out of the church and in church leadership.

“Sometimes, for something to be effective, you have to take the slow route to see what you can realistically do,” Rieth said, adding the Episcopal Church already has a great relationship with the armed forces so finding partnerships and resources has been an exciting endeavor.

The group kicked off the veterans’ ministry in June with a service at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter. Rieth said about 25 to 30 veterans attended the event and the lunch afterward that gives veterans a chance to mingle and talk about their experiences with one another.

During the lunch, clergy members like Rieth also were available to talk or pray, she said.

“The response was very positive. I think we had about 30 people who came and there was wonderful table conversation afterward,” Rieth said. “People were just very grateful that we are talking about this and have some awareness of the special needs of that population.”

For the Sept. 7 service, committee members opted to include a second site to allow easier access for veterans in southern Mecklenburg and Union counties. The services are open to veterans of all faiths and their loved ones and will include prayers, honor and a sermon at each location. A free lunch will be offered at each event.

Rieth will preach the sermon at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter. She was asked to be part of the ministry because of her experience as a psychotherapist, particularly in working with cases of marital couples and the challenges they face after deployment. Rieth also holds the certification to serve as a Veterans Administration chaplain, though she is not currently serving in that capacity.

The services are open to every veteran from every branch of service, as well as widows and widowers of veterans, active military spouses who are still stateside while their loved ones are deployed and anyone else who cares about
veterans.

The Episcopal Church of the Holy       Comforter is located at 2701 Park Road in south Charlotte. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is located at 116 S. Church St. in Monroe.

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