This article is based upon a recent conversation Esther Jantzen had with fellow minister Teri Richards.
One of the best things about being a Minister in MSIA is the privilege we each have to choose the focus of our ministries and to carry them out in our unique ways. When we write our renewal applications, we each acknowledge what we see as our ministerial service to our selves, families, community, world, and God.
And in Ministers’ Meetings — whether in person or on Zoom — we have a chance to share with others about our ministries. It’s fascinating to learn how others choose to use and direct the sacred energy of the lineage of the Travelers.
One of the most powerful ministries I’ve heard about is that of Teri Richards. Teri works at US military bases around the world—counseling, serving, and ministering to service men and women and their families. “The military is a huge machine,” Teri said. “But it is also just people.”
I recently reached Teri at Daegu Army Base in South Korea where she was completing a service rotation, and I asked her about her ministry.
But first, a little background: Teri entered the Movement in 2005, introduced to it by Robert Waterman after a class called “Consciousness” at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM. She was ordained in 2009 when she worked briefly in the Products Department at Prana in Los Angeles.
It was in 2013 when Teri discovered a civilian program that contracts with the US Department of Defense to provide counseling services for active duty personnel and their families. She joined that organization, and now believes its program is of enormous importance because it is structured outside the military’s mental health system, and thus provides confidentiality for clients without tracking or fear of retribution.
Teri serves members of the military who want support with life issues that include relationships, loss and grief, stress from Covid restrictions or jobs, feelings of isolation, and the homesickness that may arise from being away from home for the first time.
During the pandemic, Teri said, things have been especially difficult for young service men and women. Often they are individuals who joined the military to find opportunities not available where they lived. They may have joined for a sense of belonging—only to find social interactions were very limited because of Covid. Many experienced a high sense of disconnection in being unable to talk with others. In addition, because there is constant relocation and turnover in the military, it was even more challenging in 2020 to build community.
Teri’s ministry in this context is focused on carrying the Light. “It feels like such a calling to me,” she says, “to provide empathy and understanding to clients who are coping with these conditions. I encourage them to remember they are Souls and that there is loving inside each one of them. I see a great readiness and hunger in my clients for self-forgiveness.
“This is a young population. They range from 18- 40,” she explains. “They are ripe to do growth work. Often the clients, especially the women, are dealing with issues related to empowerment. They want to learn how to create good relationships within themselves, and they are learning to mentor one another.”
She told of an experience on one rotation in Germany. The client was a walk-in, an African-American man in his early 20s. The 2016 elections had just occurred, and this man from inner New York City was worried—worried about what might happen to his family, worried about an immigration issue. He told her stories he’d never revealed to anyone. She was honored that he trusted her, that he had the courage to share, to get help. And once again, she realized how much people really matter.
We often think of (and judge) the military as a group of war-focused organizations. While that is partially true, Teri has a different vision for these massive organizations that have huge capacity and funding: she holds out the possibility for the military to be a “service force”—a global service force for helping, for good, rather than for polarization. For we know the military manages incredible diversity in its ranks, with many ethnicities, colors, and creeds represented. She cites as a recent example of service-for-good the role of the National Guard in assisting with Covid testing during crucial months of the pandemic.
Of course, just as military personnel are moved around, Teri also has experienced being uprooted frequently. Her rotations are from six months to one year. In her seven and a half years so far, she’s had twelve rotations—to several different bases in Germany, in Japan, in the United Kingdom (England), and in the Republic of Korea.
One may wonder how Teri gets support for herself in this work as she moves from one base to another. Her connection with the Traveler through SEs is essential, she reports. And a powerful support for her is through twice-weekly Zoom meetings with a group of four women ministers.
And what can we, fellow Ministers, do to better support her? “Hold people who work in the military in your heart,” she answers simply and directly. “Always, more Light is good.”
Finally, Teri says the bottom-line of her job is to communicate “You really matter” to each of her clients. And what helps keep her on-course is an affirmation she once heard Robert Waterman speak: “I am the one who came to bring love.”
Hmm. Perhaps that could be the bottom-line ministerial focus for all of us.