What does a historic peace church do when veterans want to join?

Jason Boone leads a seminar titled “Welcoming Veterans in a Peace Church” at #MennoCon17. Photo by Kenneth Krehbiel.

by Jordan Waidlich for Mennonite Church USA

“Veterans know better than anybody,” said Bob Shelley, from Fort Collins, Colorado, “the value of the message that the Mennonite Church offers of peace.”

It might seem counterintuitive, but Jason Boone, a peace and justice minister with Mennonite Mission Network, would agree.

Boone has spent years researching the effects of war on soldiers mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That research tells him the Mennonite Church has an important role in welcoming veterans.

“There are a lot of veterans in our pews already,” he said during a seminar Friday morning. “But we might have no idea.”

Shelley is a Vietnam veteran who attended the seminar.

“I think many veterans [have] felt ignored,” he said, “or at a distance and unable to enter into community with Mennonite churches because they are so diametrically opposed.”

While some people in the church may be waiting for veterans to take the first step, Boone wants to remind everyone that the “doors open both ways.”

“This is a way to plunge into the depth of the missional community wherever you are,” he said. “It’s a chance to recognize we have unique things to offer them.”

Veterans come away from combat with pain, but Boone wants people to form relationships and help veterans through that pain.

As pacifists, we see the difference between our beliefs and the action of those who go to war, and we put up walls. But Boone argues that we need to tear down those walls to help with that pain because “that’s where Jesus would be.”

“If you’re willing to take some chances, go where we haven’t been,” he said. “When they benefit and you benefit, the kingdom’s going to benefit.”

That is exactly the thing Shelley would like to see happen.

“I am happy that the church is moving towards reaching out to be welcoming to veterans,” he said. “I was career military and had never heard a pacifist message expressed to me. But when I did, I felt the resonance in me, and it became part of me.”

While Boone has received some pushback, he argues that being proactive in those relationships is what Jesus would do.

“I think this is still a resistance to war,” Boone said, “just in a different form. We have a chance to fight it again with compassion, love and relationships.”

That’s what Denise Goertzen, from Stuarts Draft, Virginia, is doing in her church. She’s been a pastor for around a year and a half and holds a regular Bible study with a group of veterans connected to her church.

“We don’t have to agree with the choice,” she said. “We just have to hold their story and support the people of God they are.”

Goertzen is in a unique position because her father was a conscientious objector.

“I’m coming to the table with my story,” she said, “and they’re holding it too.”

“They’re resilient, and they’re grateful,” she said. “This is some of the most meaningful work I’ve done.”

Goertzen, Shelley and Boone all want to see how the Mennonite Church can continue to reach out to veterans, withholding judgment and walking with them through their pain.

“When you see a need not being met adequately,” Shelley said, “that’s your calling.”

Read the full issue of the Orlando Squeeze here.