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Reaching out to those who serve

Over the years, many of Farmington's congregations have come together numerous times for ecumenical worship. But there is a new movement happening in town that brings congregations together to support military families.

It is not something that asks congregations to take a position on war, or even anything remotely political. The movement will build new relationships between the community's churches, and will mean reaching out to lend assistance to family members whose husbands, wives, mothers or fathers are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is Farmington churches coming together to work on a world issue," said Rev. Deb Stehlin of Light of the World Church. "We have people in our community who are experiencing isolation. That's not God's will. I believe, really strongly, that we are more powerful together than we are separately. If our aim is to build a stronger community by battling isolation, then we as churches had better be a community, too."

A religious perspective

Stehlin is a member of Farmington's Warrior to Citizen Campaign. She attended a few early meetings, and found herself impressed with the cross section of people who were there -- city staff, military wives, parents, a few business representatives, VFW and Legion members -- but noticed that one crucial part of the community was not as visible. Not many religious leaders were in attendance.

"I just thought there was an incredible energy there. As their plans unfolded, I saw a gap that churches are uniquely able to fulfill," she said. "It was just a fire that was in my belly, and I said we just have to get all the churches together and talk about this. So that's what I did."

Stehlin sent out letters to all of the congregations in Farmington, as well as those in Castle Rock and Eureka townships, inviting them to attend a Jan. 27 brainstorming event at Farmington Lutheran Church. She was thrilled to have 11 of the community's churches represented that night.

"There was an incredible sense of unity in the room. A sense of churches coming together. I hope it's the start of something that comes together as one community around one issue that needs our attention," she said.

The group heard from Farmington's Warrior to Citizen founder, Annette Kuyper, who shared her experiences as a mother of a soldier. Warrior to Citizen member Jodi Kelly, the wife of soldier Ken Kelly, talked at length about the months her husband was gone, alone in a new town with small children and no one nearby to help or even confide in.

It is the very isolation Jodi Kelly experienced that Stehlin hopes Farmington's churches can combat.

"Our end result is different than, 'I'll bring over a hotdish and won't see you again.' I'm talking about real, true neighboring. It's something churches are uniquely positioned to address," Stehlin said.

Next moves

The representatives from each church were charged with going back to their respective congregations and creating working committees -- "core teams" Stehlin called them -- to address those needs.

In April, the committees will all come together for some training. The Army National Guard has guidelines on what is helpful and not so helpful for military families, which will be included in the training.

After that, the next step is to get connected with families within the community who are experiencing that isolation and find ways to reach out to them.

"We are not making a statement on war. We are making a statement on loving our neighbor," Stehlin said. "I think we can be more powerful if we work together, as a community."