[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Ann Ritonia observed her first Veterans Day weekend as bishop suffragan for armed forces and federal ministries by traveling to California to visit chaplains and preach at Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of San Diego.
A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Ritonia was ordained the first woman bishop suffragan in the ministry’s nearly 60-year history during a consecration ceremony on Sept. 30 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.
The bishop suffragan for armed forces and federal ministries is a member of the presiding bishop’s staff and is elected by the House of Bishops. In this role, Ritonia is responsible for recruiting, endorsing and supporting more than 100 chaplains in the military, veterans’ hospitals and federal prisons.
On Nov. 10, Ritonia and some chaplains joined a panel discussion addressing the needs of veterans. The following day, Veterans Day, Ritonia participated in a volunteer event where members of the Diocese of San Diego created care packages for veterans. Ritonia also attended San Diego’s diocesan convention at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego’s Bankers Hill district, where she invited veterans and active-duty military personnel in attendance to stand.
Ritonia told Episcopal News Service that San Diego Bishop Susan Brown Snook is “really committed” to caring for the U.S. military and veterans because the diocese is “in the middle of a huge military community.”
“It’s been a great trip, because I’ve been able to visit my military chaplains and [Federal] Bureau of Prisons chaplains who are stationed in the area, and recruiting, because we need more chaplains across the board,” she said. “It’s exciting work. I’ve got the best episcopate in the entire Episcopal Church.”
San Diego is significant to the U.S. Armed Forces because it’s home to several military bases, including Naval Base San Diego, where Ritonia visited chaplains aboard the USS Malkin Island over Veterans Day weekend. Ritonia also visited chaplains at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.
On Nov. 12, Ritonia preached at Christ Episcopal Church in Coronado, home to Naval Base Coronado. Later in the evening, Ritonia preached at a special evensong honoring veterans at St. Paul’s, where she also highlighted the kind of work military service members do every day.
“Think about skills that [military personnel] learned in the military. They’re engineers; they’re accountants; they’re teachers. All those things translate into contributing to the wider community … And when they’re serving in the military, they also have humanitarian missions,” Ritonia said.
Ritonia used the National Guard as an example. “When there’s a hurricane, when there’s a flood, when there’s a pandemic, they’re activated to help our communities, so they have missions both in peacetime and in wartime. They train all the time for the possibility of conflict. Those skills, they translate across just a myriad of areas,” she said. “For some reason, that’s downplayed. Not enough people think about that side of the military.”
Currently, 114 Episcopal priests are active U.S. military service members, four of whom are based in the San Diego diocese, according to Ritonia.
The Episcopal Church’s armed forces and federal ministries is based at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which celebrates veterans and active-duty members through special Veterans Day events annually. This year, on Nov. 11, the cathedral hosted “The President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra in a concert tribute to veterans. The next day, the cathedral held its annual worship service honoring fallen Marines. The U.S. Marine Corps’ birthday is Nov. 10, one day before Veterans Day.
Ritonia said she had accepted Brown Snook’s invitation to celebrate Veterans Day in San Diego before she realized that celebrating at Washington National Cathedral would’ve been the more conventional route. However, “it was really important to be with my chaplains who are stationed out here, so it made sense.”
“I’m trying to strategically plan where I spend my time, because if it doesn’t advance the cause of our chaplains – provide for their care, provide for our veterans – then I need to really think twice about it,” she said. “Is this where I need to be? We’ve got chaplains all over the world, and my job is to take care of them. It’s a privilege and it’s humbling when I see the work that they do.”
Ritonia said that verbally thanking a veteran for their service alone is easy, but it’s also become a “platitude.”
“I’m really encouraging folks to say, yes, thank you to veterans, but also to go a little deeper to ask them questions. What was meaningful about their service? What was hard? How has their service affected their lives today? Because I think that we can go deeper,” she said. “We’re called to go deeper in relationship with one another.”
-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at email@example.com.