The life of a military chaplain and his family is often challenging and sometimes even lonely.
Elizabeth Schaefer (pictured at right with her husband, James), wife of a Grace Brethren military chaplain, has experienced that firsthand. James has had three year-long deployments during his career, in addition to numerous other shorter periods away for training.
“Throughout their careers, it is rare for our husbands to be stationed anywhere where there is a Grace Brethren church within driving distance,” explains Schaefer, whose husband, James, serves with the U.S. Army. “During those years when a GBC is not nearby, you can feel like you don’t have a home, spiritually speaking.”
That is why the Eagle Commission exists. Throughout the history of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC), close to 50 men have served as military chaplains, dating as far back as World War II. The Eagle Commission was formed more than 20 years ago to serve as a connecting point between Grace Brethren chaplains and the FGBC. Currently, 14 full-time chaplains and their families are supported by the Commission, plus a number of others who serve at Veteran’s Administration medical facilities or with the Civil Air Patrol. (See the complete list at eaglecommission.org under “Our Chaplains” in the pull-down menu.)
“From my standpoint, it gives me a family,” notes Schaefer. “I have been so blessed over the years to be connected to the Fellowship. It has truly been a lifesaver in some ways.” She adds, “Especially during the times [when my husband was deployed], the Eagle Commission was a comfort. They would pray for me at that particular season in my life, and pray for James and his ministry. I drew such strength from that.”
She added that the chaplains and their families “rely on their connection with the Fellowship,” and find that this “family” is an incredible source of strength.
Right now, James, a lieutenant colonel, is assigned to U.S. Army Central Command at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.
“Our home church is in Clinton, Md., and we are on their missionary list,” said Schaefer. “They support us with their prayers, letters, and emails. But other churches and individuals reach out to us, too…we’ll get letters from all across the country because of the Eagle Commission connection.”
“Although our husbands are Grace Brethren [elders], they do not serve on a church staff or work in a Christian school. Instead, they minister, counsel, preach, teach, and work side-by-side with those who are not Grace Brethren, including all the other pastors (chaplains) they are assigned with. This can leave them feeling disconnected from their church home. Yet, it’s an amazing opportunity to be in a position where you relate daily to our country’s military leaders.
“These leaders make decisions daily that affect the lives of America’s sons and daughters in uniform. It’s amazing that God has blessed our Fellowship with pastors who can be in these kinds of positions. We definitely need to pray that God will use them to have a godly impact on our military’s leaders and the decisions they make.”
Each summer, as many chaplains as possible attend the FGBC national conference. There they have an opportunity to personally thank the Fellowship and members of the Eagle Commission for their love and support.
The Eagle Commission is sponsored by Grace Brethren Investment Foundation on behalf of the FGBC. Information about the chaplains is offered through the Eagle Commission website as well as a quarterly newsletter. Don’t forget to encourage our chaplains and their families through your letters or emails, and let them know you’re praying for them! Email notes of encouragement to the Schaefers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to learn more about the Eagle Commission and to connect with the military chaplains. (Individual emails are included with their bios in the pull-down menu under “Our Chaplains.”)
This story first appeared in GraceConnect eNews. To subscribe to the weekly e-newsletter that includes news and information from congregations in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, click here.