Last Adventist Military Support Facility to Close
Ministry to enlisted members to continue through people, not buildings
eventh-day Adventist chaplain Gary Councell remembers when a church-run military support center was once a spiritual oasis amid secular military life. For decades, soldiers could depend on finding good food, a clean cot, and fellowship with likeminded Adventists during the Sabbath hours at the hostel-like facilities.
In a decision seemingly at odds with the church's commitment to minister to its enlisted members, Adventist Church leadership in North America voted at its 2007 year-end meetings to shut down the church's last military support center.
But closing the "underutilized" and "costly" center will allow church leadership in North America to help even more soldiers by "redirecting resources from buildings to people," says Councell, who spent 32 years as a U.S. Army chaplain and now directs the Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries from offices in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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END OF AN ERA -- The oldest of six church-run military support centers -- in Frankfurt, Germany -- will close at the end of the month. Adventist Church leaders say shutting down the largely unused centers will redirect resources to better support more enlisted members. [photo: Gary Councell/ANN]
"We have to be good stewards," Councell says. "We will continue to minister to soldiers overseas, but we will be investing those dollars in support of Adventist chapel worship groups, pastoral converge, continued religious retreats, worship aids, Sabbath school outreach, and training in leadership."
Church leadership will also funnel some resources toward educating young members about the challenges to faith they'll face if they join the military, such as Sabbath observance, dietary issues, and bearing arms.
Today, just one of the original six centers remains -- the oldest, in Frankfurt, Germany. Opened since 1952, the center would close June 30, North American church leadership decided.
While up to 30 Adventist soldiers a night would make use of the facilities in peak years -- from the 1950s to 70s -- Councell says the centers have been sparsely trafficked for years, hardly justifying the $100,000 each requires to operate per year -- plus a stipend for the directing chaplain.
With increasingly more soldiers and military resources concentrated in Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, keeping support centers open in comparatively peaceful regions such as Europe and Korea isn't a wise use of limited finances, church leadership concluded.
ACM will support local lay soldiers in regions where few Adventist chaplains are stationed, or in countries where security concerns hinder their work. One such lay soldier is using ACM study guides to run an Adventist military chapel worship group in Iraq now attended by 37 people, Councell says.
The centers were originally set up to remind Adventist servicemembers "the church cares about you," says Dick Stenbakken, who retired in 2004 as ACM director, a post he held for 14 years. "We make no judgments about why you are here. We just want to support you."
While methods may have changed, the message hasn't changed, church leaders say. Plans are in place to establish ACM field representatives in the northwest and northeast regions of the U.S., as well as church "homes" for military members assigned overseas. As the church caters its ministry to the changing needs of enlisted church members, it will better be able to "enhance [their] spiritual well-being," NAD church president Don Schneider said of the decision to close the centers.
                                                                                                       -- Reported by Adventist News Network

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