(See pictures below.) Every two years, about 30 active Wesleyan military chaplains from all branches of service are invited to come together for debriefing, prayer, inspiration, professional development, and fellowship. While some are in deployment or otherwise cannot attend, it is a valued time for most and helps them stay connected to each other and The Wesleyan Church.
On January 16-19, 2017, twenty-six chaplains, spouses, and hosts met at "The Cove" in Asheville, N.C., hosted by Executive Director Rev. Russ Gunsalus and Dr. David Higle (Division of Education and Clergy Development).
Worship times were led by Bob and Gail Kerstetter of Southern Wesleyan University. Special presentations on "Soul rescue: spiritual care for post-traumatic stress disorder and moral injury" were provided by Dr. Duane Larson, former president of Wartburg Theological Seminary.
Other presentations were led by Wesleyan chaplains (Air Force Chaplain Lt. Col. Mike Rash, Army Chaplain Maj. Randall Johnson, and retired Navy Chaplain CDR Gordon Ritchie). As the official chaplain endorser for The Wesleyan Church, Rev. Gunsalus brought a keynote presentation and endorser briefing. At breakout sessions, chaplains connected and heard each others' stories.
Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Hunsinger, Air Force, described the retreat in these words:
There was good mentorship from senior chaplains. It was great to hear what has worked best for them over the years and how they have maintained their focus on serving the Lord in the midst of challenges.
The ropes course was AWESOME!!! It was a great bonding experience and pushed many out of their comfort zones.
During free time one afternoon, Kim and I got to take a nature walk down to the chapel at The Cove. It was beautiful. I'm glad our spouses were included.
The best part as always is the fellowship and times to connect with our other chaplain couples, including some that we have not seen in a long time. Time away from our normal busy mission is important. The Cove is a great context as it lends itself to a retreat mentality: relaxation and reflection.
The denominational update from Russ and Dave was VERY helpful and insightful as we are sometimes not as connected as we would like to be with the Church. Also, retired Chaplain (CDR) Gordon Ritchie's presentation on a conference he attended in Washington, D.C., regarding the Department of Defense's new policies and their impact on chaplain ministries was extremely helpful information.
Kim Craft's (Wesleyan HQ staff) efforts to connect the wives via Facebook has been much appreciated. Russ and Dave have a phenomenal heart for all our chaplains and our ministries and it shows! They brought a lot of passion to their presentations.