Five years ago St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Marietta, Georgia, began its Veteran Friendly Congregation Initiative. Now there are about 200 Veteran Friendly Congregations in the southeastern United States, and the Brotherhood of St. Andrew — which played a leading role at St. Peter and St. Paul’s — wants to take the program nationwide.
Brotherhood President Robert Dennis cites too many instances of veterans struggling to find the help they need: jobs, disability payments, health care, and treatment for such afflictions as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities, and military sexual trauma.
The numbers are staggering: in the 12 years since American troops were first deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 2.6 million veterans have returned home to a country largely unprepared to meet their needs.
“The suicide rate, broken families, and unemployment among families is inconceivable to all of us,” Brother Dennis said November 11 in announcing his organization’s attempt to promote Veteran Friendly Congregations in its chapters and churches.
“Some 37 percent of returning veterans suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder and 62,619 are homeless,” President Dennis said. “Their unemployment rate of 15 percent is twice the national average.”
The first Veteran Friendly Congregation program began in 2009 at St. Peter and St. Paul’s when the Rev. Robert Certain, rector at the time, was approached by IBM executive and West Point graduate Peter McCall, who sought a way to help what he saw as a major problem.
“Peter and his wife, Cathy, have been stalwart leaders in the creation of Veteran Friendly Congregations,” Fr. Certain said.
“It all began with the brotherhood chapter at St. Peter and St. Paul’s,” said Fr. Certain, is executive director of the Military Chaplain’s Association. A retired Air Force colonel, he is also the brotherhood’s national missioner to the U.S. Armed Forces and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church offers training for mental health professionals regarding post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues, arranges living accommodations, provides financial support, helps veterans find employment, and will help any veteran however it can.
The church and its brotherhood chapter organized Care For the Troops, which maintains a vast website with information any chapter needs to begin caring for veterans.
“We are delighted the brotherhood is pushing this program,” Fr. Certain said. “It has spread to many other denominations here in Georgia, and we would love for this to be expanded to other regions of the country. It started with the brotherhood, and the brotherhood would be a good vehicle to get it going nationally.”
The Veteran Friendly Congregation initiative continues a long-standing brotherhood commitment to helping returning veterans.
At the conclusion of World War I, 729 churches of the 1,165 that existed at the time organized church welcoming committees, thanks to the work of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, which kept a file on each veteran. When veterans returned home, many suffering from shell-shock — which we now call post-traumatic stress disorder — a local brotherhood chapter knew it.
Statistics from that era show that 56 percent of men asking to be baptized at Episcopal churches did so after initially being ushered into a church welcoming home committee organized by the Brotherhood of St. Andrew.
Building upon its success in World War I, the brotherhood refined its methods of keeping up with veterans, even as the task in the U.S.’s five-year involvement in World War II proved much more difficult. The brotherhood’s help to the military in the First World War earned it a great deal of trust among the Army and Navy brass. To its surprise, the brotherhood found itself being recommended by U.S. Army and Naval officers.
Due to the international stature of the Anglican Communion, brotherhood chapters already existed in much of the English-speaking nations. But during — and especially after — World War II, brotherhood chapters spread to other countries and regions such as the Philippines, Korea, and Japan, a legacy of the brotherhood’s efforts that began in 1945 by helping wounded veterans.
Offering injured veterans a home in a brotherhood chapter that can offer them substantial help for their afflications — whether physical, psychological, or both — can play an important role in the life of the brotherhood as well as the lives of people returning from the longest wars the United States has ever fought.
“There is no set way to accomplish this — every church and chapter is different,” Dennis said. “Either way, you are transforming the life of a man who gave his all for his country.”
Image: Eating together at a Veteran Friendly Congregations family day • Brotherhood of St. Andrew photo