Alexandria chaplain serves those in military service
Nurture the living. Care for the wounded. Honor the dead.
As a chaplain in the Minnesota National Guard Army, these are the duties Jeremy Pedersen carries out, no matter the religion of the soldiers in his unit.
Pedersen, whose full-time job is serving as Lutheran pastor at two congregations in Douglas County, recently returned from a two-week training in Lithuania, the southernmost of Europe's Baltic states. A former Soviet nation, it borders Poland, Latvia and Belarus. Its capital, Vilnius, reminded Pedersen of Minnesota except it had sandy soil but still lots of trees.
Pedersen's part-time job is being the chaplain for the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment.
And during the summer training periods, as well as the monthly drills, Pedersen learns the same skills as the rest of the soldiers; the only difference is that he does not carry a weapon. He is there to chaplain as an ordained clergy person.
"My job is to do the normal pastoral duties and to enable the soldiers to practice religion," said Pedersen. "I perform or provide religious advice."
For instance, if there are Catholic soldiers, then Pedersen will arrange for a Catholic priest to join the worship service. He said services are typically held Sunday mornings, but that he is there whenever soldiers need him to provide pastoral care or counseling.
Pedersen also has performed memorial services for soldiers who have died in the line of duty.
"Sadly, I have done five funerals stateside for soldiers who have passed away," said Pedersen, who added that he has helped notify family members of fallen soldiers.
As a chaplain, Pedersen said he has met people of many religions. He said they may not agree with each other's beliefs, but regardless, they support and respect one another.
While in Lithuania on his training mission, Pedersen said they were allowed some time for sightseeing.
One place that sticks out in Pedersen's mind was a Jewish mass grave that was dug in 1941. He said it was "very sobering."
Pedersen said the Lithuanian people were very friendly and again, reminded him of Minnesota and "Minnesota Nice." He said the Lithuanian chaplains are very similar to pastors and other clergyman. He was surprised at how much they had in common.
Being a member of the Minnesota National Guard is a commitment, said Pedersen, and this trip took him away from his parishes for three Sundays. Pedersen said he was "very thankful" to his parishes — both at Our Savior's and at Fahlun Lutheran — for being so understanding and supportive of him. While he was gone, an interim retired pastor filled in for him.
Pedersen feels blessed to take this trip and perform duties of army chaplain for 600 soldiers in Lithuania and said it was a first-time experience of this nature for him.
"It was very unique and I am thankful for the experience," he said.