CHARLES TOWN — The life of a U.S. Army chaplain in Afghanistan is filled with hardships.
The chaplains make memorials for fallen soldiers in makeshift tents and preside over services and communion sometimes offered in outdoor rooms or no room at all. They comfort the ill and dying and offer one-on-one counseling. In combat zones, they wear headbands with a small light to read the Bible to soldiers attending services at night. Some chaplains travel straight into the battlefields to support the troops. Although the conditions are often bleak, the chaplains have faith that their message brings hope and comfort to those who hear it.
This month, an Army camouflage clergy stole made by Barbara Porterfield of Charles Town was blessed by the Very Rev. Melanie McCarley at Zion Episcopal Church. Barbara joined 27 other stole makers from 25 states and a stole maker from Australia to make 41 stoles for U.S. Army chaplains serving in Afghanistan. Some of Zion’s children colored paper stoles and wrote notes of thanks to the chaplains for their service.
It is the practice of the church to bless vestments — the blessing of a stole is found in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services. According to McCarley. “To bless something means to ‘make it holy.’ When we bless the stole, we are rendering it suitable to be used for its intended service, both to God and to the men and women serving in the armed forces.”
In the Episcopal Church, the stole is placed on a deacon or priest when they are ordained, said Porterfield.
“A stole is an outward visual symbol of the office and authority of the priest or minister and represents the yoke of God’s service,” Porterfield said.
The Stole for Chaplains Project started in January when Sgt. Apollo Stower in Afghanistan contacted Elizabeth Morgan, former altar guild directress for the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, N.Y., and owner of Church Linens & Vestments. He requested a washable stole of Army camouflage fabric made for his chaplain in Afghanistan.
“Elizabeth researched camouflage fabrics and in communicating with Stower, discovered that 40 other chaplains in Afghanistan would like a camouflage stole, too,” Porterfield said. “Very quickly, a one-stole project turned into a 41-stole project. Elizabeth contacted the stole makers she knew through her business. Soon, 28 stole makers were committed to the project.”
According to Porterfield, a woman in Connecticut volunteered to machine embroider the three crosses on the 41 stoles — two at the lower ends and one at the neck. She also embroidered a prayer sewn on the back side of the stole that reads, “Father bless our Soldiers and send them home safely to us. In the name of your blessed Son Jesus.”
Porterfield was one of the stole makers that Morgan contacted. An experienced banner designer and maker, she began making stoles when her daughter, Amy Porterfield Turner, was ordained as a deacon.
She calls the stoles presents for their ministry.
“Now with both a daughter and a son-in-law who are Episcopal priests, I am committed to developing an array of stoles for them and their clergy friends,” Porterfield said.
Porterfield has another compelling reason to participate in the project — to honor her family members who have served in the military.
“My father was in the Army in World War II and went into France on D-Day plus two and served all the way into Germany. My husband’s father and mother both served in WWII stateside — she was a Lt. Cmdr. in the WAVES, and Phil, my husband, was a Vietnam-era army captain. It was important for me to honor their service,” she said.
On March 14, Porterfield received fabric for one stole and an e-mail from Morgan asking if she could send more fabric for another one. Porterfield arranged for the second stole to be made at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, Va., where her son-in-law, the Rev. Brian Turner is the assistant rector.
“Elizabeth also had a special request for all the stole makers — that the stole makers take the stole to their church to be blessed, that the congregation write notes, and the children draw pictures to be sent along with each stole to be part of the gift,” Porterfield said. “I have to thank Zion for taking part in this wonderful project. As Elizabeth says, ‘This project is Holy Spirit driven.’”