"I've been out of the service for some time now," Stringham said, "but still, to this day, when I meet another veteran who served where I served, who saw what I saw, who lived that same experience, it's a connection I can't explain."
In an effort to help veterans connect with one another and the local community, FBC Fayetteville hosts an annual "Salute to Veterans" evening. In its fifth year, the event focuses on honoring veterans, their families and those currently in the military.
Veterans Day and other key holidays allow churches to recognize and honor veterans and military members. Doug Carver, executive director of the North American Mission Board's chaplaincy team, said FBC Fayetteville conducts such events exceptionally well.
"First Baptist Church Fayetteville has unquestionably set the standard on an effective way to honor our military veterans with their annual community worship service," said Carver, last year's keynote speaker. "My participation in the event last year was one of the most memorable experiences in my 33 years of ministry.
“Such an inspiring event allows the faith community to give thanks to God for blessing our nation with such extraordinary men and women who have sacrificed their lives to keep our country free and strong."
The event has become a key part of the church's ministry.
"Our Salute to Veterans event is so important to us because our veterans are so important to us," Stringham said. "We want them to feel valued and honored by our church and the community as a whole so we really put a lot of work into creating a first-rate evening that recognizes the service and sacrifice they have made for our country."
The evening's program includes a local big band, an all-veteran choir, a salute to military members and a military representative as keynote speaker, this year retired U.S. Army Gen. Peter T. Madsen. With upwards of 500 people in attendance last year, the evening has quickly become one of the community's most celebrated Veteran's Day activities.
"What started as an event to honor the veterans for our church has really grown into an event for the entire community. We've partnered with other churches, local organizations and even the school system to expand the event and the community's awareness of our veterans," Stringham said.
One of the most powerful portions of the evening includes the recognition of a local family who has lost a loved one in military service.
"We're honoring a woman this year who lost her husband in combat just over two months ago," Stringham said. "It's just a small way to support her and let her know that not only do the community and the church care for her, most importantly, so does Christ."
At the core of Stringham's heart is connecting veterans to Christ through the local church.
"This allows us to go outside the walls of our church and bring them back in by letting them know that we value who they are and what they've done in service for our country,” Stringham said. “It's a great starting point in connecting them with our church and ultimately with Christ."
Several veterans and their families have begun attending services at FBC Fayetteville after the Salute to Veterans event, Stringham said. This kind of outreach and support of veterans is something Stringham believes every church can do.
"Every church has the opportunity to recognize their veterans," Stringham said. "Start small. Host a luncheon, honor them in a Sunday service, have their families over for a meal, get your community involved and then let it grow from there. There are so many ways to say thank you for what they've done for us and leave an impact in their lives for the cause of Christ."
NAMB is the endorsing entity for Southern Baptist chaplains serving in the U.S. military. Southern Baptists have 1,355 endorsed military chaplains and a total of 3,547 endorsed chaplains, including those who serve in hospitals, prisons and other settings.
To view a video about NAMB chaplains, visit www.namb.net/chaplaincy. To learn more about how a church can support veterans, click here.
Sara Shelton is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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