Laypeople have a long history of serving in support of WELS troops. During WWII it took many hands to record the thousands of names onto index cards and file them into shoeboxes so that we could keep track of them. Lay support continued up to the Gulf Wars as volunteers assisted Special Ministries in stuffing envelopes for mailing to troops.
Lay support has been critical, and appreciated. But the new cause for thanksgiving has become lay leadership in support of ministry to the military.
As the last century was drawing to a close, I was asked to become a member of the WELS Military Services Committee (MSC). The committee had only one other member, Pastor Joel Jaeger. It was overseen by the administrator of Military Services, my brother, Carl.
It wasn’t that lay people were considered unimportant, it’s rather that they were thought of as those who should be served—rather than possibly leading others in service.
In my first years with Military Services, we talked about including actual military people on the committee, but we never thought it would happen to the degree it now exists. We sought advice and help from active duty and veteran troops, but we did not empower them to become leaders in ministry to the military.
This has changed.
Laypeople now outnumber clergy on the Military Services Committee by a ratio of 4-3.
When I look at the projects the committee is taking on, again and again it is laypeople who are leading the way. They are the ones who usually come up with the new ideas—and then follow up to transform the ideas into actions.
The Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) does not technically carry out ministry. But it surely does lead the way to enable ministry to be carried out. It is not only the money that LMSG contributes to the cause, but ideas, information, understanding, and compassion.
Most clergy, including myself, have only a sketchy understanding of what it means to defend a nation, and the costs to warriors and their families.
Thank God, the warriors do not need to wait for clergy to act before any action can happen. Thank God for our active duty and veteran lay leaders. They are his gifts to his people.
Rev. Paul C. Ziemer
National Civilian Chaplain to the Military
September 5, 2018