A church ministry to returned servicemen and women is seeking to expand and equip local churches to create safe and caring environments for soldiers to reconnect with their Christian faith.
Warrior Welcome Home, a ministry of St John’s, Gordon, has been running since 2012 and recently set about supporting parishes in Darwin – a centre for Australia’s armed forces – to run similar ministries in their local context. The plan is to operate Warrior Welcome Home in Darwin on two consecutive weekends before handing the long-term ministry over to the churches.
“It’ll be our first out-of-Sydney program,” says senior associate minister at St John’s, and leader of the Warrior Welcome Home ministry, the Rev Rob Sutherland. “We’re also trying to do it in such a way that we help run the first one so local churches feel ready to run the second one.
“There’s nothing particularly complicated in what we do – it’s very focused on being simple and about relationships. If you can run an Alpha course or Christianity Explained, you can run Warrior Welcome Home.”
Mr Sutherland was himself a member of Australian Defence Force, serving as an infantry officer in the Army before later becoming a chaplain to the Army and Army Reserve. After completing two tours as a chaplain in Afghanistan, he says many men and women struggled to reconcile their experiences ofwar with their faith, even more so when trying to return to civilian life in Australia among communities that struggle to understand.
“What’s becoming understood now is that, as a country, we’re very good at training people and sending them off to war, but we’re not good at bringing them home,” Mr Sutherland says. “For many, coming home is the hardest thing.
“In recent times, the concept of moral injury has become understood… we’ve also added to that the idea that people can be spiritually wounded as well. So Warrior Welcome Home looks to heal the dents in the soul and we’ve found that love, principally the love of God, works at healing those spiritual wounds.”
Despite the existence of ministries like Warrior Welcome Home, Mr Sutherland says, in general, the church can struggle to know how to love and care for returned service people – whether they be veterans of conflicts like the Vietnam War, or more recent and continuing conflicts such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I think we’ve lost confidence in our message and the tools we have to help people,” he says. “The reality is that many returned soldiers have these spiritual wounds and want to look to churches for support and for hope. Many of the people we see identify themselves very quickly with Jesus, who they can see was abandoned, cast off and knows what it’s like to suffer. They do that even if they don’t identify as readily with the church itself.
“Churches don’t need to be afraid of what to say or what to do, and they don’t need to try and help with every single problem.
“If returned soldiers are in your churches, and they trust you enough to talk about their experiences at all, then that’s a good thing.”
Warrior Welcome Home at St John’s operates as a four-day residential program for about eight people at a time, aimed at Christians and those with Christian backgrounds. Spouses of service personnel are also often invited to take part in the program.
See stjohnsgordon.org.au/warrior-welcome-home for more information