Saturday, 29 January 2011

A Relevant Church

During the course of this week I spent the day at Aldershot, at the Army Headquarters. For those of you who don't know, and are wondering why a vicar should be hob-nobbing with soldiers, I should point out that by an odd turn of fate I am now a commissioned Officer in Her Majesty's Army - or put another way, the Padre to the Buckinghamshire Army Cadet Force. It was a training day for such men and women as us.

If one were an alien and beamed down to Earth, perchance stopping to note the Anglican Christian blogosphere, one would wonder if the Church had any value or good in it at all. Much vilified in the typed media, it is often delivered as a dead-horse-walking. My visit to Army HQ told me a very different story.

The Brigadier of 145 Brigade (covering a vast swathe of southern England) talked to us about how absolutely crucial the Chaplaincy was, in two ways:

  • To the provision of pastoral care and support to the soldiers and their families
  • The connection of the Army with the civilian population (for another post)
It is part of the mantra of the Army that is provides a 'Firm Base' to its operations in places such as Afghanistan. It is acknowledged in the language and process of the Army that the chaplaincy is intrinsic to that. This is outworked in a number of ways:
  • Padres alongside soldiers on Operations
  • Padres caring for families back at base, providing for their pastoral and spiritual needs
  • Padres providing a significant volume of the core learning about values during basic training
  • A 'firm base' of prayer
  • A considerable zeal for mission and evangelism, with some success
  • If you want 'undefended leadership' models, the Padres are the only front-line personnel who carry no weapon
For the Army, the church isn't far short of being one of the legs on a stool - a crucial part of the 'whole'. I am new to all of this, but have seen with my own eyes the support and witness that padres (male, female, all denominations) provide to frightened soldiers, triumphant soldiers, soldiers who have lost three limbs in a mine blast, and so on. We visit all 'recovered' personnel at home, regularly, the more obvious provision of funeral rites - but also the joyful matters, the happy times. 

Only when the church stands in a place of real adversity, life and death problems, and not the flaccid half-concerns that we worry about so often in our present day, that we become a community of most potent relevance. A soldier will not fight without his/her scriptures in their pocket, or, it seems, without the padre being there upon his/her return. That is a very relevant church. The church of Blog? An Obese Asthmatic with one leg. The church of the field of conflict and defence? Crucial, valued, vital, respected, loved, alive and kicking. 

May God bless all the men and women who, this day, are risking their lives to fight for a cause that they didn't choose, having answered a call to do their part. May God bring peace in our time, so that they may be returned safe to their families and loved ones. 


  1. Your writing of this post makes my heart sing. I believe the same of most chaplain roles, in the fire brigade, police, at hospitals, in schools. Chaplaincy is the enacting of the church and Jesus healing love with those in need.

  2. Thank you Emma - it only really dawned on me in these terms this week. I am a parish priest and not a typical chaplain (skill sets and all that), the I am fast recognising where, quietly, the real work is being done is large measure!

  3. Would it be too much for me to suggest that the Army is also a better 'model for society' than the society it serves?

  4. A ten day placement with a Royal Navy chaplaincy was one of the highlights of my theological training. I must say I was highly impressed. Military chaplains have a wonderful opportunity to minister to an age-group which is often notable by its absence in the average parish church. I applaud your taking on this role and pray it will be a blessing both to you and your "flock".

  5. I have (sadly, you might say) followed the work of army chaplains and their brothers and sisters across the forces more closely in recent years than I might have expected. What they have to work with, and their quiet humility and compassion, there going about their job without passing judgment has left me with the highest respect for them.

    Growing up in a town in Surrey, the army were fairly distant, but when we married we moved to a small, army town in Hampshire (just a few miles south of Aldershot) and while a bloody great nuisance at times (I don't flinch at machine gun fire, I can recognise a chinook by it's sound alone, their tanks make a mess of the roads, and don't get me started on the truck driver training during rush-hour!) I have found a new respect for them.

    Godd bless them, and all that they do…



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