Magazine article The Christian Century

War over, Some Clergy Still Away on Duty. (News)

Magazine article The Christian Century

War over, Some Clergy Still Away on Duty. (News)

Article excerpt

Since he got called up from the National Guard and sent to Iraq, Army Chaplain (Major) Jeff Jencks has anointed a soldier in an operating room, provided a listening ear for other military members far from home and befriended Iraqi children. But he has children back home in Rhode Island who miss him--the Sunday school class at St. John's Episcopal Church in Cumberland, who sent their pastor a long banner with tracings of their hands on it.

"It's intended for him to wrap around like he's getting hugs from all the kids," explained Paul Bousquet, senior warden of the church and the lay leader who's helping run the congregation in Jencks's absence.

Multitudes of military members serving in reserve units have been deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom, leaving jobs and families behind. But some of them also have left the leadership of their congregations--temporarily or permanently--to answer the call to military service.

While some have undetermined dates to return to familiar pulpits across the United States, others recently called up to serve in support of the Iraqi war will not go back to their congregations. Chaplain (Major) Robert Cannon, recently rector of Epiphany Cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Venice, Florida, took the place of the Catholic priest at Bolling Air Force Base outside Washington who was deployed to the Middle East.

Cannon's bishop decided that he should not attempt a temporary absence, given the large responsibilities--3,000-plus families as well as a school. "Where some military members would miss the birth of a firstborn child and other kinds of sacrifices, my particular sacrifice is having to let go of the parish," said Cannon. "I do that willingly. It's my time to serve."

For Cannon, the shift has been from parish council meetings, daily masses and youth activities to counseling military members who have marital problems, are about to be deployed or have lost a friend in Iraq. Cannon is one of about 80 "individual mobilization augmentees," or air force reservists who were called on to help support troops in Iraq. Another 160 active-duty air force chaplains were deployed for that operation.

Of the 400 or so army chaplains involved in the Iraqi war, about 60 percent were on active duty and 40 percent were from reserve components of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. …

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