Good News from a VA Medical Center

va2By Chaplain Gary Cowden, Veterans Health Administration, (With introduction and commentary by Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy)

There’s been a lot of bad news coming out of our Veterans Administration Healthcare System. So much so, that one can be led to think “can anything good come out of the VA?”  For this reason, I’ve followed closely the ministry reports of our seven chaplains serving in the VA.  Of special note was a recent report by Gary Cowden, Chief Chaplain at the Puget Sound VA Healthcare Center in Seattle.  When asked to describe some of his greatest blessings over the first half of 2016, Gary wrote:

“The growth of our team. I am the Chief of Chaplain Service, so my great joy is in providing leadership to our service line. In June we had our second annual spiritual life retreat at a Catholic retreat center – it was a tremendous blessing to us all.  The Chaplain Service continues to grow; we now have eight staff chaplains and thirteen CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) students, including a Supervisory Education Student (a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) instructor in training).

My emphasis is on team and spiritual unity, so we meet daily for prayer as we begin the day. This emphasis on prayer has brought a great sense of teamwork and spiritual vitality to our team, enabling us to endure many difficult life events (death of a daughter, serious health and family issues, wayward children, birth of a special needs child).  I view the staff support provided as the essential factor in high team functioning.  The team is composed of two Catholic Priests, two Presbyterian women chaplains, a Church of God in Christ chaplain, an Assembly of God former Navy chaplain, and a CB/Calvary Chapel Supervisor. (This is the nature of pluralistic ministry in an institutional setting.)  All truly love the Lord and enjoy serving Christ together.  We may have doctrinal differences, but deep love and respect for each other.

Beyond that, my efforts in the area of Moral Injury continue forward. I have conducted two groups of Veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and moral injury; and continue the training of other mental health professionals on the subject.  The topic is receiving more scrutiny in the literature all the time.  It is a blessing to be on the cutting edge of this ministry.  We have seen lives changed as Veterans have recommitted their lives to God following their recovery from the moral injury of war.”

cowdenThis past September 9-11, Gary (far right in purple shirt) again facilitated a seminar at the CBNW Men’s Round Up on the topic of Moral Injury and Healing.  After a well-attended session last year, incorporating the testimony of a Vietnam Veteran, who had been suffering from the debilitating impact of moral injury, Gary invited two Vietnam Vets who had found forgiveness and healing of their soul through Christ. (See group photos of chaplains and Veterans – can you distinguish between them!).  Over 50 men, many Veterans and those ministering to Veterans in their churches and communities attended and lingered after with questions.

When asked for what he’d like prayer, Chaplain Gary wrote:

“Continued team unity. This is a great place to work because the team functions so well together.  Also please pray for the spiritual vitality of myself and the rest of the VA chaplain staff.”

One might ask: “How do you quantify the ministry impact of chaplains like Gary?”   Gary summarized this six-month ministry period thus:  Worship Services: 12, Bible Studies: 4, Small Groups: 36, One-on One Visits: 150, Rededications: 1!!  It’s clear from his summary, Gary is a “player-coach,” actively and effectively involved in direct ministry on top of his supervisory duties.

Pray for Gary and the other 175 CBAmerica chaplains serving in Federal and Civilian settings across America; on military bases, VA hospitals, and Prisons; as well as medical centers, hospitals, hospices, and with first responders (police, fire, EMS), rescue missions, Veterans, Motor Sports, and Wounded Warriors. Pray that men and women will find forgiveness and spiritual healing of their souls in Christ.