I get up. I pray. I have breakfast with my family. I put on my clerical collar, my ‘vicar-uniform’. I drive to work. I show my security pass to the guard who, today, is unarmed. I start work by addressing 200 soldiers in the gym before the regular fitness test, which is as much a part of the life of the British Army as is the place of the chaplain.
I am a chaplain in the British Army and I stand in a long tradition. Priests have been attached to the Army since at least 1066, and in 1796 the British Army Chaplains’ Department was formed. Most chaplains are commissioned and wear uniform, although they are strictly non-combatant and do not carry arms. I am a bit different as I serve as a civilian chaplain to the barracks in my parish, but it is an honour to serve the soldiers, the families, and the workforce that surrounds any military base.
“But why?” You may be asking. Because here are real people, members of our community with much to offer and real needs to be met. When that community worries or suffers, our whole community is affected; and with soldiers facing danger every day this is very real for us.
Christians are called, you see, to be salt and light (Matthew [NT] 5.13-16). Food needs salt to bring out its distinctive flavour and to preserve it. Light needs to shine in darkness to make any real difference. We’re called to live our faith in the real world, and our city is shaped by at least 10% being linked directly to the Army.
As their vicar, I need to serve where they are; taking a role as ‘Padre’ enables me to show the love of Christ in a very real way. Following Christ means being there for and with people. It means listening and loving. It doesn’t mean that I have all the answers, but by being present and being real I can introduce people gently to the love of Christ.
Christians are also called to learn from the world around us. The Bible often refers to Christians as soldiers (2 Timothy 2.1-4): disciplined, committed, courageous, and faithful. No army is perfect but, just as Paul found things to admire even in Athens (Acts [NT] 17), there are a great many lessons to learn from military life. Take faith, for example: A good soldier has a profound understand of what it is to trust another, even to place his life in another’s hands. What does my faith look like when viewed through that lens?
Finally, I have responded to a particular compassion the Lord laid on my heart for this time. God often sends us to particular people at particular times, and the Army is a focus for us as a parish—and therefore for me as the vicar, a servant of the people.