In honor of the men and women who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces, the Episcopal dioceses of Bethlehem and Central Pennsylvania combined on Nov. 10 for a Veterans Day service in the chapel at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.
More than 200 pocket prayer shawls were blessed by Bethlehem Assistant Bishop John P. Croneberger, the Rev. Terry Wible of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Lebanon, and the Rev. William Alford of St. Andrew's in the Valley, Harrisburg, before being presented to Chaplain Joel Copeland of the veterans hospital.
The shawls were created by members of the Sacred Stitches group throughout the Central Pennsylvania diocese. Members of the group were present along with approximately 100 veterans and VA Medical Center employees.
Pocket prayer shawls can be carried in pockets or used in situations where a large shawl is not appropriate or allowed, such as intensive care units or by troops in combat, according to the Central Pennsylvania diocese's Sacred Stitches webpage. Essentially, they are "prayers you can hold onto."
A card added to each prayer shawl says: "May this pocket-sized prayer shawl made with love and infused with prayers, be a sign of God's sustaining presence. May it refresh your weariness and provide comfort in your anxiety. May it make available to you healing for your pain and consolation for your loneliness. May it bring, joy, gladness and brightest blessings."
The prayer shawls were distributed to veterans in the hospital following the service.
Central Pennsylvania Bishop Nathan D. Baxter, a Viet Nam veteran, was unable to attend the service but said in a prepared message: "These shawls have been lovingly made by members of both dioceses. It will be a small gesture, I know. Yet, when I was a soldier, alone on a base or deep in the jungle, the small gestures (a letter, photo, prayer card, small care package) had great value for my soul."
Baxter described Veterans Day as "a time to remember that there are those who are still giving, not because of their politics but of patriotism. While our young men and women join the Armed Forces for various reasons, they believe in the ideals of freedom and defense of country."
Baxter asked Alford to represent him at the service.
"While I agree in the importance of remembering the veterans for their dedicated service in the cause of freedom, I feel it is important to remember the people who gave them the ability to do the work the veterans were called to do," said Alford, a Viet Nam veteran and a commander with the PA Civil Air Patrol Squadron 306, during the service. "I am talking about educators; the people who taught and continue to teach math, English, history and the many other subjects that enhanced the vets' God-given abilities. So to the veterans and educators, I say thank you for a job well done."