Reverend Chris Antal was a source of faith and hope to those of us who were touched by his ministry while he served in RC South from Kandahar Airfield. He was an Army Chaplain devoted to the work of counseling and helping heal those who suffered moral injuries from their participation in the conflict. An example of the sort of work he was doing was posted here in 2013 with an interview (Song for Healing) conducted with Angel, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A 2013 posting here (Reverend Chris Antal) described his Veterans Day (2012) sermon that led to an official reprimand. His battalion commander at Kandahar told him that the sermon did not support the mission. He was returned to the US prematurely with a ‘do not promote’ evaluation and removed from active service. He challenged the Army’s actions which were overturned following a Congressional hearing by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Antal was reactivated and promoted to Captain.
On 12 April, Reverend Chris Antal resigned his commission as an Officer in the US Army. The details are covered well in a 16 May article in the Army Times. The letter of resignation and its response from President Barack Obama are found on the web site of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern where Antal currently serves as minister.
A 12 May article in Military.com discusses changes in the wording of AR-165-1 related to Army Chaplain Corps Activities. This text is critical to the disciplinary actions taken following the Veterans Day sermon. At the time of the Kandahar sermon, the wording was, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.” Antal took seriously the expectation that he speak with a prophetic voice. His reprimand in the aftermath of the sermon was in contradiction of that call to prophetic voice. The text now reads, “Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command.” Army Chaplains have now been cast in the role of apologists instead of spiritual counselors.
Reverend Antal’s departure from the Army Chaplain Corps is a real loss for the Army. Chris was a skilled counselor and a blessing to those struggling to make sense of their role in a poorly defined conflict. Reverend Antal continues some of that same work as staff chaplain at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center but these skills are sorely lacking near the battlefield. I hope that there might be some lessons learned from the Reverend Chris Antal’s experience with the Army Chaplain Corps and that the Corps might come to see the benefits of accepting a broader role for the support staff of the spiritual condition of the troops.
The honorific Reverend really does apply to Army Chaplain Chris Antal. He is revered by those of us who knew him in his short time at Kandahar Airfield. This excerpt from Chris’ 2012 Veterans Day sermon helps explain why Chris Antal will be fondly remembered by those touched by his ministry at Kandahar Airfield.
Repentance and (no) Reluctance: A Confession for America
I was in the congregation that heard A Confession for America at the Veterans Day Service last year. The group was a fairly even split between civilians and uniformed service members. All were moved and none were offended. Any objections came later when the text was picked apart after appearing on Chris’ blog.
I am happy to report that a lot of what Chris began here has taken on a life of its own. The Sunday Unitarian Universalist services continue with Bob LaVallee serving as lay religious leader and other members of the fellowship taking their turn with the sermons and other duties each week. David Graham also went through the religious lay leader training and has taken over the Saturday Zen meditation practice established by Chaplain Antal. David is even performing the Japanese Tea Ceremony at the end of the meditation.
Some elements of Reverend Antal’s ministry cannot be carried forth by others. Chris was particularly skilled in support and counseling. The loss of those talents from the conflict zone is significant. The healing of moral injuries was an abiding concern for Chris. His spiritual counseling has been praised by those whose lives it helped turn around. One very moving example is found in this interview with a soldier who had struggled with the emotional trauma of incidents that occurred during his service in Iraq. A song he wrote which deals with one of those incidents was part of the healing process and begins the recording of the interview.
Song for Healing
Chris Antal has continued his ministry of healing of moral injuries after his departure from Kandahar Airfield. He became Pastoral Care Coordinator with Soldier’s Heart whose goal it is to prepare families and communities for supporting and healing veterans to bring about a healthier and more successful reintegration of our nation’s veterans.
Music can be a significant tool in healing “soul wounds.” It allows us to share things from an emotional level which cannot be communicated any other way.There is a beautiful example of this described in this interview. Angel suffered for many years the aftereffects of an incident he was involved in as a soldier in Iraq. The song he wrote was part of the healing process. The song was written about a specific incident but it carries a powerful universal message for all of us.
Interview with Angel 22m05s 13-Dec-12
Here is Angel’s song, to download or play;
Driving By As I Watched You Bleed 3m27s 13-Dec-12