04/11/11 — Church offers service members place for fellowship, and help

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Church offers service members place for fellowship, and help

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 11, 2011 1:46 PM

Bishop Terry Hayes' years of military service have left him with a deep understanding and appreciation of what places like a Christian Servicemen's Center can mean to military personnel who are far from home.

"It is as important as it is to be able to buy a cheeseburger," said Hayes, pastoral associate at Park East Church of God. "It's comfort. It's a little piece of home and that is the best way to describe it."

It is that comfort and support that members of the Park East Church of God want to provide for local military families, veterans and surviving spouses.

The church has joined the ranks of USA Missions as a member of the Church of God International Offices' Ministry to the Military and is now registered as a Christian Servicemen's Center. Its goal is to involve all of the area's Church of God churches.

Representatives of the various churches gathered at Park East Church of God recently gathered for an inaugural event and to hear comments by U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and Bishop Wade Miller, senior pastor at Sandhills Worship Center at Spring Lake.

Miller is a retired Army command sergeant major and a former director of the Christian Servicemen's Center for four years in Puerto Rico.

"This (program) has been established since I believe the late 1970s," said Hayes, an Air Force Reservist stationed with the 916th Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. "In 1984, we were part of the Church of God Christian Servicemen's Center in Fayetteville when I was stationed at Fort Bragg. That is how I came to know of it and actually how I came to know of the Church of God and eventually became a minister myself."

The local church's decision to join the program started as more of an outreach to aged veterans, Hayes said.

"We have a lot of veterans in our church and the inspiration for this really came back in November of 2010 when we were preparing for our Veterans' Day program," Hayes said. "I did not realize that we had so many veterans in our church. We have a lot of combat veterans starting back in the Korean War. We have a minister in our church who is an ex-POW from the Korean War. I had no idea. It is something that people don't talk about.

"We also have a lot of widows of veterans. They have negotiated the VA and federal government type things they have to go through to get benefits after their spouse passes away. We just had a wealth of knowledge, so what we started with was a group we call the Veterans Advisory Council. It was just to get military people, veterans, together to have coffee socials and discuss ways to help each other and share the information."

Hayes and Miller are friends and Hayes had asked Miller about the local church becoming a Christian Servicemen's Center.

"What most centers do is to give service members a location for people to kind of get away and leave the rigors of base life and come somewhere where they can relax," Hayes said.

The church is in the process of starting construction in the near future of a Family Life Center.

"What we are going to do at that point is make it (center) inclusive with the program of the Ministry to the Military to have that space available -- reading room, coffee room," Hayes said. "We have even discussed the possibility maybe of lodging. A military wife is having a baby and her family is coming in. It is a strain on the family. So if we could help by providing a place for them to stay and shower."

The program is not an effort to bring people into the church, Hayes said.

"We want to make their life as enjoyable as possible while they are here and as stress free as possible while they are here," he said.

People would be able to call the church on an as-needed-basis, but there are activities going on at the church almost nightly, he said.

"We try to make everything situation-appropriate," Hayes said. "If a female spouse called, she might feel more comfortable talking to another female military spouse. People who are doing this are the people who have been there, especially with the deployments and the stresses of military life. We want to be there."

Also, Hayes said he would like to see all churches involved since people are used to different styles of worship and might not be comfortable at other churches.

"However, we can direct them to a congregation that will open their arms to them as well," he said. "That is why we would like to get all of the churches involved even though we all have different flavors of worship -- get the involved with the military as much as possible."

Miller said the center will make a major impact on the area because of the concentration of military in eastern North Carolina.

"When you are a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine and you are away from home it's important to have a place that you can connect into -- a support group," he said. "It's Ministry to the Military that is a strong arm of ministry in our denomination, the Church of God.

"It stands alongside the (military) chaplaincy to support the chaplaincy. All of it is to provide a spiritual network as well as a physical support, family support to help with any type of problem that might arise."

For more information, call the church at 778-3177.