Church responds to chaplain's call to help soldiers

The Rev. Tom Berlin (left) presents a copy of his book, “Courage,” to Massachusetts National Guard Chaplain Chad McCabe in the chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. McCabe, whose unit was assigned to help provide security at the U.S. Capitol after the January riot, contacted Wesley Seminary asking for Bibles, novels and board games for troops stationed there. Photo by Lisa Helfert for Wesley Theological Seminary. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The Rev. Tom Berlin (left) presents a copy of his book, “Courage,” to Massachusetts National Guard Chaplain Chad McCabe in the chapel at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. McCabe, whose unit was assigned to help provide security at the U.S. Capitol after the January riot, contacted Wesley Seminary asking for Bibles, novels and board games for troops stationed there. Photo by Lisa Helfert for Wesley Theological Seminary. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
United Methodists responded generously when an Episcopal priest put out word that National Guard soldiers deployed in Washington needed help occupying themselves during downtime. 

Bibles, novels, decks of cards and board games are in the hands of more than 600 National Guard soldiers from New England after the Rev. Chad McCabe, a chaplain in the Army National Guard, contacted Wesley Theological Seminary, his alma mater.

The soldiers are there to keep the peace in the aftermath of insurrectionists storming the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Five people died and at least 250 people have been charged in connection with the attack.

“I reached out to some of my friends such as Chip Aldridge at Wesley,” McCabe said. Aldridge is associate dean for admissions at the Washington, D.C., seminary.

“(Aldridge) put the call out, and we had a wonderful response from Pastor Tom Berlin at Floris United Methodist Church in Virginia.”

Berlin, also chair of the Board of Governors at Wesley, thought McCabe’s request “was a fantastic opportunity for our congregation.”

“We have a Master of Divinity degree for military chaplains (at Wesley),” Berlin said, “so we have a culture that’s very interested in helping military chaplains and the military.” 

The request was for 150 Bibles and devotional resources. As it happens, Berlin recently published a new book, “Courage: Jesus and the Call to Brave Faith.”

“It occurred to me that a book titled ‘Courage’ is one that people in the military might be interested in reading,” Berlin said.

Abingdon Press, the book-publishing arm of the United Methodist Publishing House, which released “Courage,” agreed to donate 150 copies to the effort.

“I think the travesty of an insurrection at the nation’s Capitol building … was such a shock to all of us that everyone is very interested in supporting the troops who are preventing that from happening again,” Berlin said. “I think Abingdon demonstrated that when they said, ‘We’ll donate the books.’”
National Guard chaplains are assigned to provide spiritual support and counseling for guard members stationed at the U.S. Capitol. From left are U.S. Army Capt. Chad McCabe, chaplain with 101st Engineer Battalion, Massachusetts National Guard; Spc. Justin Clark, chaplain assistant with 164th Transportation Battalion; and Capt. Luis Alvarez, chaplain with the 164th Transportation Battalion. Photo by National Guard Capt. John Quinn.
National Guard chaplains are assigned to provide spiritual support and counseling for guard members stationed at the U.S. Capitol. From left are U.S. Army Capt. Chad McCabe, chaplain with 101st Engineer Battalion, Massachusetts National Guard; Spc. Justin Clark, chaplain assistant with 164th Transportation Battalion; and Capt. Luis Alvarez, chaplain with the 164th Transportation Battalion. Photo by National Guard Capt. John Quinn.

In addition to pocket-size copies of the New Testament, the soldiers also got Bibles and devotionals from the Baltimore-Washington Conference and Turner Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, and rosaries from a Roman Catholic diocese. 

“So it’s a very ecumenical effort,” McCabe said.

Members of Floris United Methodist in Herndon wrote notes of appreciation and support to put in copies of “Courage.”

McCabe, also pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Northborough, Massachusetts, is a doctoral student at Duke Divinity School. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, he’s been able to continue much of his ministry online while he is deployed to Washington.

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“Most of us are worshipping remote and I’m still able to contact parishioners to counsel them, to speak with them and check in with them,” he said. “I’m still leading our small group courses. I’m still there. I’m still able to be present.”

McCabe has a background that lends itself to commiseration with soldiers. 

A veteran of the Iraq War, he was an agent at Homeland Security for 12 years before entering the ministry. As a chaplain with the National Guard, he has counseled soldiers in Boston in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody, and at the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, during the current coronavirus crisis.

“When I come to these soldiers who are my denomination or different faiths, I’ve got two things to guide me: Love God and love people, and to be present with them during their tough times. So for me, it’s been a blessing to be able to minister to people that maybe never see a clergy member.”

Chaplains help the soldiers deal with loneliness and keep them connected with their spouses and families. 

“Just keep people encouraged while they’re a long way from what they know,” he said. “I remind them that God is still present, and God is a god of justice. He hears the cries of his people. What we’re doing is to help those voices be heard.”

Patterson is a UM News reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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