Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dignity, Honor and Respect = Love

Chaplain John C. Wheatley, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army and an Elder in the Eastern PA Conference, serves at the Dover (Del.) Air Force Base as a Family Support and Liaison Chaplain. He is part of the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Division at the base. Two Peninsula-Delaware Conference Cabinet members and I visited him recently, and we were greatly impressed with his extension ministry and the program there. 

Prior to this most recent deployment the Rev. Wheatley served as pastor of the Ono UM Church on the Northwest District. His current deployment at the Dover Air Force base will be a short-term venture, and we hope to have him back at Ono UMC to continue his ministry there soon.

The Casualty and Mortuary Affairs program opened in April 2009. It was designed to bring families to the base to help receive their loved ones who were killed while serving their country in any capacity. Since then there have been 1,900 dignified transfers, and the program has ministered to 9,275 families.

There are buildings that house family members who come from all over the country. And there is 24- hour assistance for them as they grieve the loss of their loved ones. A family meets the plane that is carrying the body of its loved one; and if the family requests, the transfer moments are recorded on video as a keepsake. 

The support staff there handle child care, personal effects, transportation, hospitality, security and even things like coats and medications that have been left behind. They are highly trained, and excellence is the standard. Even the buttons on the uniform of the deceased are polished, and the hotel-like accommodations are inspected for such minute details as the way the candy is arranged in the candy dish. Everything is done with the utmost care, as staff strive to live up to their motto: “Dignity, Honor, and Respect.”

I thank God for the ministry of Chaplain Wheatley and all those who serve in this form of extension ministry, bringing grace and comfort to those who find themselves in one of most devastating situations in life. I am proud of our country for providing such a service and for the “Friends of the Fallen” volunteer group that supports this effort, including some members of our Pen-Del Conference.

It would be wise for all our churches to have healthy conversations about death and related concerns. People often don’t think about it until a funeral is planned or about to happen. Churches can be a place where people discuss living wills, hospice options, financial decisions, and end of life considerations from a Christian perspective. That way people will be more prepared at the time of death, and family members will be less burdened.

We also need to come alongside the families of our service men and women. They are all over our conference, and some who have lost loved ones are walking a difficult road. The church can help grieving children and families deal with stress. One child who lost his father asked the chaplain: “Who is going to take me fishing?” We can do that. And we can do a lot more as we open our eyes and see the need in our community.

When we see and respond with compassion to the needs of others, especially those who suffer from loss, we manifest a core principle upon which we, as the church, "live and move and have our being." Our commandment to love one another as Christ loves us could well be our motto, and certainly it sums up the motto of the good folks at Dover Air Force Base. In other words, “Dignity, Honor and Respect" = Love.

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