The Rev. Andy Gibson leads a service last week at First Congregational Church in Pittsfield. At left is church organist Linda Snow. Gibson hopes to provide support and services to military personnel and their families. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

PITTSFIELD — A familiar face has returned to the pulpit and pews of the First Congregational Church after being away for several years in the Maine Army National Guard, and he’s brought with him a new mission: to support members of the military and their families.

The Rev. Andy Gibson grew up in New York and moved to Bangor decades ago for seminary. He had always admired the military, but thought his window to that world had closed. While he was in seminary, he was looking for a part-time job and his wife encouraged him to enlist. So he joined in 1987 as an enlisted person and in 1989 became an officer, and then a full chaplain in 1992.

He first came to the First Congregational Church on a temporary basis. A friend from seminary was the pastor at the church and asked Gibson to fill in for the summer. At the time he had been considering going on active duty in the National Guard, but Gibson and his wife enjoyed the town and the church so much they decided to stay.

While based in Maine, Gibson was responsible for a wide range of tasks. He would perform marriages for soldiers — getting special permission from the Maine secretary of state so that people could get married outside their hometown. At one point Gibson said he performed 10 marriages in 24 hours.

But his work as a military chaplain also meant assisting in notifying families of a death. He would accompany the officer in charge of notifying a soldier’s family, to offer support for the family and the officer if needed.

The Rev. Andy Gibson greets Angel Holmes and others last week during a service at First Congregational Church in Pittsfield. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“Although you hate the reasons why you have to do it, all of the chaplains that I’ve worked with who’ve had to do this, even though it’s sad and it’s painful, at no time do you feel as useful as that,” Gibson said. “At no time do you feel as much a chaplain as when you are giving that one-on-one care to somebody (on what is) probably the worst day of their life.”


When he was still part-time with the National Guard, Gibson was deployed for several months to Bosnia in 1997. He was part of the stabilization efforts in Eastern Europe following the Bosnian War. Gibson was the base camp chaplain for approximately 1,200 people stationed there.

Gibson recalled sleeping in the chapel in the base camp overnight to meet with soldiers who came for support during the night.

“We got most of our business after midnight, because that’s when the soldier would call home and talk to their spouses that had just gotten home from work or whatever,” Gibson said. “And so we would get the raps on the door at three o’clock in the morning, four o’clock in the morning about something bad that had happened at home.”

The Rev. Andy Gibson delivers a sermon last week at First Congregational Church in Pittsfield. Gibson hopes to provide support and services to military personnel and their families. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

He returned to Maine after his deployment, but as time went on and the military began to send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a need for a full-time chaplain. So in 2003 Gibson left First Congregational Church and began working full-time with the National Guard.

He would travel across the state visiting service members. Each unit had a part-time chaplain, but if something came up during the week, Gibson was the first to respond. He was responsible for a range of other tasks, like recruiting chaplains, reaching out to the families of deployed soldiers and offering resources to them.

Gibson was deployed again in 2006, this time to Afghanistan. Unlike his time in Bosnia, while in Afghanistan he traveled to many parts of the country. At that time Gibson was a supervising chaplain and worked to coordinate the other chaplains and chaplain assistants.


There was active fighting at that time in the country and Gibson saw several firefights and the deaths of several soldiers. At one point there was a rocket attack that killed a first sergeant in a unit Gibson was working with, and he performed CPR on him, a death that was difficult for the rest of the unit. Less than a week later, a soldier in that unit died by suicide and Gibson had to wait with the body for several hours until an investigative team arrived.

Despite those episodes, Gibson said he’s thankful for the friendships he made there. “It’s just a wonderful group of people and the highlight is just being there with them,” he said.

He retired from the National Guard last year and had various jobs before realizing he wanted to return to being a pastor, with a new angle on supporting military families.

Gibson recalled listening to a Christmas Eve service as a pastor discussed the difficulty service members and veterans have coming back to God when they have witnessed traumatic war scenes. It was a small group listening, only 10 people, but Gibson realized that four of them were veterans and they were all there with people who cared and supported them. That was the moment that sparked the idea of a new mission for Gibson.

A 2007 Morning Sentinel article about the Rev. Andy Gibson’s work in the Maine Army National Guard.

“And so I said, ‘Why don’t we add on a ministry to currently serving veterans and their families, and at least through our Christian message see if we can help them reconnect with their God, or maybe connect with their God for the first time,'” Gibson said.

Many Americans may only look to military personnel on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, when really veterans need year-round support, Gibson said. So the First Congregational Church is looking to provide that extended support aimed at families with the unique experiences that come with having someone enlisted in the military.

“We’d like to make a place where they can feel comfortable, where they’re not going to be told that they’re going to hell because they participated in war, where they’re going to feel honored in what they did and how they did it,” Gibson said. “And when we get to those questions of, ‘Why would God let this happen?’ They can do that in a different frame of reference.”

The local American Legion post now is holding meetings at the church and Gibson hopes to have someone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs stop by regularly, but plans are still evolving.

“We want to be here, we want to provide it,” Gibson said. “It’s one of those if you build it, hopefully they’ll come.”

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