KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – It was a day of celebration at First Baptist Church Wartburg last Sunday.

We were there for Pastor Matt Ward’s first Sunday back in the pulpit after being deployed for a year as a chaplain overseas for the Tennessee National Guard in Kuwait and other areas. He did not want recognition for himself, instead, he nominated his congregation for military honors for all they did for him and his family while he was gone.

Outside the church, the flag waves in the wind. Inside, there is a patriotic display to welcome home Major Matt Ward, affectionately known as Brother Matt.

It’s his first time to preach in his home church after serving as a chaplain for the Tennessee Army National Guard in Kuwait and other areas. During that year away, his congregation showered him with care packages to share with the soldiers, prayed for him as he ministered to the needs of those thousands of miles away and watched over his family.

“I thought, ‘ here I am, leaving for a year and a lot of employers, that’s a big deal for anybody but I thought, I’m the only fulltime employee of the church and they’re okay with me leaving for a year. That’s a big deal,” Ward said.

So, he nominated his church and congregation for recognition from ESGR: Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve.

Jim Mungenast is ESGR Vice Chair Operations. “What our committee tries to do is recognize those employers so when someone does get deployed, they’re not worried about their job, whether it’s going to be there when they get back,” he explained.

Each of the church deacons and church financial secretary received ESGR’s Patriotic Employer award.

“It has been very humbling, and it’s been very challenging and most of all, very rewarding to help him through this deployment,” said church secretary Vanessa Taylor.

Deacon Chair Doyle Haynes said, “a day with the awards, the recognition, that’s extended out for the work of the Lord.”

First Baptist Church Wartburg

ESGR also presented one of its most esteemed awards to the church. First Baptist Wartburg is the first church in Tennessee to receive the award.

“This is a Pro Patria award,” said Mungenast during the presentation. “This is the highest award as state chair that I can give to an organization. I can only give three of these out per year.”

The church is also being considered for ESGR’s Freedom Award thanks to a caring and grateful pastor’s nomination. A pastor who helped minister overseas, now back home to watch over his flock during the latest unrest in other parts of the world.

“It’s a scary time in the world,” Ward said. “Things are very tense across the world and I find hope in God through this time.”

The Secretary of Defense will choose 15 companies out of 150 nominations for the Freedom Award. First Baptist Wartburg members say they are proud their church is one of the 150 so far.

More Positively Tennessee stories from WATE 6 Lori Tucker

About ESGR:

It’s a Department of Defense program established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to help in resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment.

More information for employers: www.esgr.mil

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