By Carl Stagner
When cool, crisp breezes begin to blow through the colorful spread of autumn across much of the United States and Canada, you can be sure that anticipation for the Thanksgiving holiday is on the rise. Many may not know that Canada’s Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday of October and doesn’t resemble everything the American holiday has become, especially Black Friday shopping—and that’s probably not a bad thing! But on November 11, the United States and Canada set aside the same day to honor the sacrifice of servicemen and women, and such an occasion should not be bypassed for turkey and football. Canada’s Remembrance Day may look a bit more like Memorial Day in the United States, as they seek to honor those who have fallen in service but, like Veterans Day, many in the Church of God choose to acknowledge and utilize this cultural observance as an opportunity to show the love of Jesus in tangible ways.
One of the most common ways Church of God congregations observe the holiday is to acknowledge and thank veterans in attendance on the Sunday closest to Veterans Day. Often a special time of prayer is included, poems are read, and a sermon is offered that relates the observance to the biblical imagery of soldiers in the Lord’s army. In this way, they bridge the gap between society and the gospel, effectively seizing an opportunity to connect culturally via the calendar.
Pastor Bill Means of the Church of God of Nebraska, Indiana, for example, spoke on “how to be a good soldier.” David Helser, pastor of First Church of God in Lancaster, Ohio, says, “I always acknowledge our veterans and their spouses, and focus the message on our thankfulness for those who have served and still serve.” Glenn Koster, associate pastor of urban ministries and evangelism for First Church of God in Hutchinson, Kansas, reports that his congregation pays special tribute to all veterans present by featuring the anthems of each branch of military service.
Many churches also mark the observance by posting a prayer or reflection on social media. Glamorgan Church of God in Calgary, Alberta, did just that for Remembrance Day by sharing an image of a single, red poppy with the words, “Thank you to those who gave and give so much for our freedom.”
Some churches take the ministry opportunities such cultural observances provide a step farther. For example, at Maiden Lane Church of God in Springfield, Ohio, a special time of prayer was followed by a special “Dollar Offering” that would be relayed to veterans-specific ministries and organizations. On Sunday in Eubank, Kentucky, Beulah First Church of God hosted a free “country breakfast” for veterans. They posted on Facebook that they are “so thankful for the courage, integrity, and honor of each of these who have faithfully served our country and preserved our national freedoms!”
Another unique approach to November 11 was offered by David Aukerman, pastor of Mt. Haley Church of God in Midland, Michigan. He reports a special way his congregation observed Veterans Day last year when it fell on a Sunday. “We had a moment of reflection at the very beginning of our service—11 AM—to recognize the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I at that very hour,” he recalls. “I encouraged our people to remember that the holiday was originally called Armistice Day, which should be important to us as followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.” Instead of a traditional Veterans Day celebration, they prayed for peace in the world.
However congregations choose to observe November 11, all are reminded of the vital ministry of Church of God chaplains to the military. In the November 2019 issue of the Move! newsletter, published by Church of God Ministries, an article emphasized the important connection between Veterans Day and our military chaplains: “This Veterans Day—and Remembrance Day in Canada—when you express thanks to those in uniform, think also of those who are walking alongside them as chaplains. They are caring for those who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe and secure at home.”
Jim Lyon, general director of Church of God Ministries, also chimed in to the Veterans Day/Remembrance Day conversation on social media, paying tribute to his own father. “Veteran’s Day began as Armistice Day, when World War I ended ‘at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month’ (1918). My dad joined US Navy in World War II and continued on active duty for twenty years. So proud of him and thankful for all who served freedom’s cause.”
Learn more about how the Church of God is involved in chaplaincy to the military, and discover opportunities for support, at www.jesusisthesubject.org/chaplain-ministries.