By Beth DiCocco - unymc.org
When singer-songwriter Jason Moon performs at Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church in Schenectady in February, he will be bringing full circle a journey that started when that congregation reached out to him years ago.
Moon is an Iraq veteran who returned home in 2004 carrying the burden of PSTD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Four years later, in March 2008, he attempted suicide. But in September of that year, he got the help that would eventually allow him to return to his music, reclaim his life and start helping other vets do the same.
We received a bequest a long time ago, said the Rev. Alan Kinney, Eastern Parkway's current pastor; at least a portion from that yearly income is used for ministry. Usually, Rev. Kinney said, the grants are "one-shots" that help establish ministries, or in Moon's case provided funding for him to attend a healing retreat put on by the organization Soldier’s Heart .
Paula Griffin, former lay leader at Eastern Parkway, worked with Soldier's Heart for six years. She was instrumental in connecting Moon with the church.
"After that point (attending the retreat), he was aggressively seeking his own spiritual, moral and emotional healing from war," said Griffin. "He had been a singer-songwriter before Iraq, but had not been able to go near his guitar."
Moon is hardly alone. Time magazine reported that the number of male veterans younger than 30 who commit suicide jumped by 44 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to Department of Veterans Affairs' numbers released Jan. 9, 2013. That means every day, about two young veterans commit suicide.
In 2009, Moon was asked to work on the musical score for a documentary On the Bridge, following the story of veterans who had attempted suicide.
"That reignited his ability to create music," said Griffin, and prompted Moon to start his own group to help veterans heal called Warrior Songs. Griffin now works for the Wisconsin-based nonprofit.
Moon applied to the G.R.O.W.T.H. Committee a second time, and was awarded a $5,000 grant to fund Warrior Songs' first retreat in the summer of 2013.
"What we do is hold veterans healing retreats using creative art as tool to (help access) deep trauma," she said. "The veterans express their stories through song, painting, clay ... on the last night of each retreat, the veterans who attend present back to the community their stories in art form. It becomes a way to educate the community about the truth."
The group also seeks to raise awareness about PSTD and the challenges faced by veterans returning from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's what Moon will be doing at Eastern Parkway.
"He is performing as a thank you," Rev. Kinney said, adding that the event will offer people "a deeper appreciation of what PSTD is and has done to individuals – and continues to do."
Rev. Kinney said that while it is more than what one congregation could do alone, he would like to see a district, the Conference – even the denomination – take up the cause of these veterans.
"Absolutely, there's a huge role faith communities can play in the healing of veterans," Griffin said. "There's a huge disconnect between veterans serving and returning and the civilian population that is not as engaged in this war as past wars."
"One of the powerful things he (Moon) does is bridge that civilian-soldier gap," and that can help make veterans feel less isolated and hopeless, she said.
The "evening of entertainment and education" will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 at Eastern Parkway UMC, 943 Palmer Ave., Schenectady. To learn more about Moon or to hear his music, visit jasonmoon.org.