Hagerstown pastor in pulpit after year in Iraq

April 21, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - The Rev. Clark D. Carr didn't need a sign to announce he was back in Hagerstown.

He only needed to sing.

"It was evident he was back," said Linn Davidson Jr. of Hagerstown. "That voice ... we missed his booming voice."

Carr, the pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Hagerstown, was back at the pulpit Sunday after spending the past year in Iraq. He served as chaplain of the 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team stationed about 15 miles from the heart of downtown Baghdad in what he called a "hub of activity."

Carr, who has been a member of the Maryland National Guard for about 22 years, oversaw about 10 chapels there, supporting soldiers' religious and moral needs.

He returned to his wife and five children about two weeks ago, but Sunday was his first service at Grace United Methodist since he was deployed in April 2007.


Rayetta Murray, of Hagerstown, said the congregation was happy to have Carr back unharmed.

"It's wonderful," she said. "He's so active. He just keeps the congregation so happy."

She said the parishioners prayed for him, but also sent packages, letters and e-mails to their pastor.

"We sent boxes of supplies, Christmas cards, candy ... whatever they needed. You name it," Murray said.

Col. Sean Lee, joint force headquarters chaplain for the Maryland National Guard, attended Sunday's service and offered Grace United Methodist Church members a certificate of appreciation from the National Guard.

"It's to thank them for their sacrifice," Lee said. "That's not a small sacrifice."

Carr answered questions during Sunday school following the service. There also was a reception to welcome him back. Hugging nearly everyone who came near him, Carr took the time to catch up with parishioners he hasn't seen in a year. Children had grown. Families were expecting babies.

Carr said he was enjoying being with the congregation again.

He also took the time Sunday to share with the church some of what he experienced in Iraq. He talked about the changes he witnessed during his time there. When he first arrived in the country last year at the height of the military surge, missile attacks occurred daily.

Later in the year, attacks were less frequent. During a phone call with his wife in February, Carr said he heard the siren and knew there was an incoming attack.

The attacks usually last about one minute, but this one went on for 15. Carr said he got under the table and continued to talk to his wife.

"My wife was scared," Carr said.

The biggest change for Carr has been the change in his schedule. In Iraq, he went nonstop from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"Doing that every day ... and then coming back, and not having to keep that pace is a change," he said.

Lee said that each of the 1,400 Maryland National Guard members deployed with Carr last year have returned home safely.

Carr said his own faith was reinforced while he was in Iraq, and that he believes religion and faith helped many who were serving there.

He gave an officer who was serving in a job he found tedious the opportunity to play music in one of the chapels. Carr said that experience was probably what that officer remembers the most and helped him survive the deployment.

Carr also counseled soldiers experiencing strains on their marriages, emotions and faith.

"No matter what they faced in their months and years there, they were in God's hands," Carr said.

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