Missouri Pastors Learn to "Extend the Bench"

“Extending the Bench” is a quarterly training provided by Whiteman Air Force Base chaplains for area clergy and laity in best practices in responding to an emergency. The concepts addressed enable those trained to be of better service to the base community—particularly in the event of a crisis situation where base chaplains would need additional support.

The March training began with an unscheduled phone call, so participants got a feel for timing how long it would take them to drive to the base and pass through security. That morning, a tent was erected outside of the base chapel. As area pastors arrived and gathered inside, a conversation took place with chapel staff on what supplies for ministry may be beneficial in a crisis situation—including how the tent where they gathered could be a temporary chapel if buildings were destroyed.

The 10 participants—including three Missouri District pastors and two laypeople—were joined by a dozen members of the chapel staff on a base tour that included the Installation Deployment Readiness Center where airmen pass through before being sent throughout the world. An MRE lunch kicked off an afternoon of “Triage Guidance” with Ch, Maj Bill Mesaeh.

“Avoid assuming you need to find the silver bullet,” says Chaplain Mesaeh about ministering to members of the military in times of crisis. “There is no silver bullet.” He highlights how the military is a slice of America—offering a diverse population with differing religious beliefs. Chaplains are available to support the religious needs of airmen of all faith traditions. What matters in these moments is the ability to have interactions that stabilize the situation by providing comfort through active listening and reassurance. Christian chaplains are able to pray in Jesus’ name—with chapel staff agreeing how that’s often the expectation once they arrive on the scene. Crisis intervention is a ministry of presence, adds Mesaeh. “Sometimes we just sit in the ashes with them.”

After reviewing these key principles, attendees then had the ability to put these concepts into action through role playing unique scenarios. It was this portion of the training day that stood out for Pastor Jon-Michael Schweigert of Faith in Knob Noster. “I particularly liked the scenario training. Proverbs 27:17 reminds us, ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,’” he shares. “Being able to see the expertise of my fellow servants certainly sharpened my own pastoral care. We do better together!” The group looks forward to reconvening in June for another “Extend the Bench” training day with more attendees.