Presiding Bishop visits military chaplaincies in Washington, D.C.

December 23, 2008

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Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori concluded a three-day visit to military chaplaincies in the Washington, D.C., area with a December 23 trip to the Pentagon.


Jefferts Schori arrived at Bolling Air Force Base on December 20, and spent the following day there, preaching at the 8:15 a.m. service and learning about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Rev. Michael McEwen, an Episcopal Army chaplain.

Touring the Walter Reed Army Medical Center on December 22, the Presiding Bishop spoke with soldiers who had lost limbs in service and met with the families of those suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

"It's been very, very good," Jefferts Schori said as she traversed the Pentagon's corridors with the Rt. Rev. George Packard, the Episcopal Church's bishop suffragan for chaplaincies; the Rev. Gerry Blackburn, director for federal chaplaincies; and members of the Pentagon's Episcopal community. "We had long discussions with the chaplains about the work they do."

But this day she was quiet, thoughtful.

Putting on sunglasses and turning up her collar, she stepped outside into the bright, cold morning to visit the memorial to the victims of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

She crunched along the gravel that surrounds the 184 memorial units -- marble benches with water flowing beneath -- and stopped next to one. Putting one arm across Packard's shoulders and the other across Blackburn's, she said a quiet prayer, accompanied by the sound of flowing water and jets taking off from nearby Ronald Reagan National Airport.

"Father Blackburn and I worked at Ground Zero in New York," Packard said. "So to cross the threshold [of the memorial] just after 9:37 a.m. was really something for us. It's a very powerful memorial."

There are 360 military installations in the United States and overseas, Blackburn said, and 106 Episcopal chaplaincies, including some on Navy ships. He and Packard prepare twice-monthly reports for the Presiding Bishop on the work of these chaplains.

"She's very much aware of what we do," Blackburn said, adding that with a daughter serving in the U.S. Air Force and a father who served in the U.S. Navy, Jefferts Schori is especially cognizant of this ministry.

"We have a personal interest," said Richard Schori, the Presiding Bishop's spouse.

Back inside the Pentagon, the group toured the Air Force corridor and an exhibit dedicated to military chaplaincy, and Jefferts Schori preached at a 12:30 p.m. service in the interfaith chapel at the site where American Airways Flight 77 hit the building.

Her sermon followed the day's Gospel reading on the Birth of John the Baptist, in which the prophet was given his name and his father's tongue was set loose (Luke 1: 57-66).

"His very naming is associated with unleashing the tongue," she said. "I'm very struck today by the way we use our voices."

"Ours can be a voice crying in the wilderness," like John's, she said: a voice seeking peace and justice. "But we may also use our voices by being quiet. Jesus in the wilderness experiences God in the silence. We come to know God more deeply by stilling our own voices.

"Our ability to still our own voices and encourage others may begin that justice road," she said to the 50 or so people packed into the small chapel. "My sense is that the people who sit here in this room have abundant ability to use their voices."

She encouraged those present to use their voices wisely, in government and military affairs, "in the ways in which John Baptist encourages us to build a straight road for the coming of Jesus Christ.

"Thank God for your voice. Use it well."