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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Pastors away at war

In a time of war, shortages can be found in nearly every walk of life — even in the pulpit. Thousands of clergy were called from their regular 10 a.m. service and into "the service" — if they serve as reserve military chaplains, that is.

And like soldiers, the length of time away and their ultimate destinations can be a mystery. That leaves congregations in the lurch, feeling the absence of off-duty pastors. And it leaves pastors missing and worrying about congregations.

"I didn't get a chance to say goodbye or even give a last sermon to my congregation before I left," says Chris Dahlberg, pastor of Stewart Avenue Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, and currently an Army chaplain at Fort Dix, N.J. But he's felt their support.

Once they are called, pastors must quickly switch gears, mentally and physically. The experience reminds Dahlberg of Job: "Job has a fence around him, and he feels safe and secure. Suddenly the fence is taken down, and the security and comfort are gone. When you're mobilized, your safety net collapses. We're separated from all that is familiar to us."

Bishop Donald McCoid of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod assigned pastors from area churches to serve Stewart Avenue on a rotating basis until Dahlberg returns.

About a dozen ELCA clergy were called to active duty recently, says Ivan Ives, assistant to the presiding bishop for federal chaplaincies. Congregations generally "make do" with supply or interim pastors, if available, he says. Often synod staff help as much as they can.

"The cooperation has been great, but it still has not been easy for the congregation, so we especially appreciate their support in this ministry," Ives says.


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