United Methodist chaplain talks about being in Boston during the bombings

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Editor’s note: United Methodist Navy Chaplain the Rev. Jen Bowden was in Boston on April 15 with fellow members of her Coast Guard unit saying farewell to a shipmate. She was called on in the days  after to offer counseling and pastoral care to first responders and others who witnessed the bombings.

By the Rev. Jen Bowden*

April 15 was a beautiful day for a ballgame! About 20 members of my Coast Guard unit were headed into Boston to say farewell to a shipmate by celebrating at a Red Sox game. In addition, there were quite a few Coasties running in the Boston Marathon. Since Fenway is along the marathon route it was a great way to be a part of both events.

The group of four people I was traveling with decided to take the “T” into Boston to avoid downtown driving and so we made great time.

It was an awesome game and as we departed during the 8th inning we were able to stop and watch the runners approaching the finish line. When the clock read “3:38” we were at the “1 Mile to Finish” line and went from there to the “T.” We were probably one of the last trains to get out of Boston before the explosions rocked the finish line as the clock read “4:09.”

We were back to the outer edge of Boston and had just reached my car when the news flashed on our phones regarding the bombs.

The roughest part of that period of time was not being able to connect with the rest of our group. Because we had departed a few minutes early, it was distinctly possible that everyone else had made their way to the finish line to cheer the runners.

It was about an hour later that we confirmed the safety of all of our unit personnel, and later into the evening when we reached one runner whose command had not made contact.

In the wake, it was evident that there were residual traumatic impacts within the personnel who were in Boston and the family/unit members back on the Cape.

On Tuesday, April 16, I was mobilized along with two Crisis Intervention and Stress Management (CISM) peers to provide a CISM debrief for personnel and dependants affected by the bombing.

I found that there were many other units who used the ballgame and marathon as a morale event. Several of those people were at or near the finish line and found themselves frustrated either because they couldn’t act as first responders despite their exemplary Coast Guard training or because of what they had witnessed while they were there.

In the days that followed, other chaplains, medical and Work-Life personnel (Coast Guard Family Support) and I responded to individual and group requests for counseling and support.

Because of my location on Cape Cod, I work with Air and Army National Guard units and chaplains who were activated in Boston for various tasks. The chaplains’ stories of supporting on-scene efforts were amazing and I helped the chaplains by supporting family members here on the Cape who were frustrated and scared from the events and news.

While one never wishes to be in the aftermath of a natural or terrorist disaster, it was moving to see the dedication and teamwork demonstrated both within the Coast Guard and also with the DOD, local fire and police, and other federal agencies.

The communication was exemplary as stories were shared through email about the ministry going on both in Boston and in affected units.

While I pray it never happens again, I am thankful to know that there is room for effective ministry and care in the face of tragedy and pain and appreciate the opportunity to serve in this manner.

*Bowden is a United Methodist Navy command chaplain, Coast Guard Sector, Southeastern New England.

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