A core group of friends at St. Paul’s Cathedral sparked the first Friends Of Military Outreach and Support (FOMOS) in 2009. One of the group, an active duty Navy pilot, was about to deploy to the Iraqi conflict assigned to MEDEVAC missions. The FOMOS group gave him a care package sourced entirely from an alternative gifts expo. In Easter of 2010, FOMOS discovered that one of the congregants was the mother of a marine; FOMOS arranged for the Sunday school children to create tons of cards for the marine.
After its initial assessment of the need for a formal and comprehensive Cathedral military outreach ministry, the FOMOS group identified two tasks going forward: discern a group call, and determine where the group could add value, yet not duplicate support efforts.
Organizing for Action After a parish-wide census, FOMOS selected six persons to serve on a steering committee meeting monthly, responsible for information and resource coordination, deployment, reintegration, employment, outreach, homeless veteran support and pastoral care liaison.
In early Spring 2012 FOMOS adopted a core mission statement: “the St. Paul’s ministry for military personnel support is dedicated to building bridges of healing in the pastoral care and spiritual healing of current, transitioning and former military members, their families and friends. Representing a progressive Christian perspective, we commit to assist in the struggles of the greater military family by either filling or collaborating with other appropriate aid organizations to fill the need.”
Our call supports the advocacy sector in the diocesan strategic plan. FOMOS offers its voice to confront brokenness in our lives and the systems in which we are a part with the healing and transforming power of the love of Jesus Christ. Where appropriate, we help returning veterans re-connect with their faith backgrounds or spiritual lives.
Start-up In-reach Information Working with Cathedral leadership, FOMOS scheduled two informational forums to brief the congregation about the twin issues of spiritual and moral injury that may afflict returning service members. Negative religious coping usually falls into two statements: “I feel God is punishing me for my sins or my lack of spirituality,” and “I wonder whether God has abandoned me.”
In a second forum, a panel of attorneys and retired service personnel addressed a second topic “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Unfinished Business.” Both were well attended and interest grew.
Moving into Outreach In a first group outreach project, FOMOS sent 16 members to the Annual Stand Down Weekend event for homeless veterans at Veteran’s Village in June 2012. Next, members surveyed entities associated with St. Paul’s and found that a liaison was welcome at St. Paul’s Senior Homes and Services to help senior residents keep in touch with families and loved ones who might be deployed. We also discovered that 20 percent of the census at our sister organization, Uptown Interfaith Center in North Park, are veterans. We now partner with Uptown to refer veterans who need a mailbox, help in a computer lab, access to job and housing postings as well as food, clothes, and other guidance and assistance.
FOMOS was further energized, and grateful for, a generous endowment grant from Susan Stone Hayes to establish the John G. Hayes Fund for Military Outreach and Support. The grant gave us the confidence to approach the Cathedral Center for the Arts, producer Canon Richard Lief and director, Bill Eadie, to co-produce a dramatic reading of RE-ENTRY, a powerful story about members of the armed services as they return home and the lasting impact of war on lives, families and communities. The production was a gift to the community; we only accepted voluntary donations. Seating was organized cabaret style in tables of ten to facilitate discussion after the performance.
FOMOS’ food ministry to Fisher House, a domiciliary for families of wounded warriors on campus at Balboa Naval Hospital, grew in tandem with the RE-ENTRY production. The audience brought non-perishables for admittance to the show.
Going Forward in Faith The FOMOS vision includes four projects that will unfold in 2013: a volunteer companioning, friendly visitor project with the Wounded Warriors at Balboa; building upon its PAIRS (Practical Application for Intimate Relationship Skills) training project; expand the FOMOS page attached to the Cathedral website to include more resources and links about service and support to veterans available to site visitors; and researching another arts production that may change hearts and minds about the needs of veterans.
We are grateful for our many partners in ministry and we look to partner with parishes in the diocese who might want to collaborate with us on a diocesan PAIRS training day.
Our thoughts about starting a ministry in your parish? Look for the passion! Uncover people who already care deeply about support for service personnel. Listen to their stories. Work with parish leadership and find ways to collaborate with ongoing parish ministries in spiritual formation, liturgy, and outreach. Meet your vestry and outline your hopes and dreams. Read about military ministry online and on the diocesan website (edsd.org/evangelism) to find ideas that will work for your congregation. Contact us for encouragement. +