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Synod: More pastoral care for Forces

18 July 2014

Forces covenants

Looking on: members of the Armed Forces, attending the Synod debate, talk to Peter Bruinvels

Looking on: members of the Armed Forces, attending the Synod debate, talk to Peter Bruinvels

ARMED-FORCES covenants were the subject of a motion carried by the Synod on Monday morning, with the aim of improving pastoral care of those currently and formerly in the Forces.

The debate began with a presentation from the Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Nigel Stock, who is also the Bishop to the Forces. He said that the Synod debate was about how the Church "might best respond to those who are part of what is often referred to as the Armed Forces community", and particularly the Armed Forces Covenant as a means of response.

"At its most basic, it is about the duty of care owed by society to those who put themselves in harm's way in defence of society, or in undertaking duties at the direction of the democratically elected government."

The Covenant has been codified in the Armed Forces Act, Bishop Stock said. "This means that the Government recognises the duty of care that it owes to the Armed Forces community, past and present." The Armed Forces Act included an "opportunity for wider society to contribute". Some 400 local authorities had signed community covenants, and 100 firms or businesses had signed corporate covenants, he said.

"There will be Forces families living in their local community 'outside the wire'." Much could be said about the pastoral and spiritual support provided by military chaplains, but the chaplains had asked him to point out that "this is not a debate about them. This is about the wider support in the community of those whom they serve."

Philip Fletcher (Archbishops' Council), who chairs the Mission and Public Affairs Council, explained why the motion was being put before the Synod.

"Members of the Armed Forces, and the army in particular, are no longer to be based outside the UK or in remote barracks, as used to be the case. They will be much more obviously part of the wider community," he said. The spiritual and pastoral needs of the Armed Forces community must "become a shared responsibility, involving both the chaplains to the Armed Forces and also the wider Church. To make this possible, the Church will need to understand the complex needs of the Armed Forces community so that we can take our part with the chaplains . . . in providing long-term pastoral care to military families."

The Ven.Jonathan Chaffey (Service Chaplains) said that returning to civilian life in the UK after armed service was a "clash between two different, highly contrasting worlds . . . leaving behind intense experiences, strong community, and physical or mental scars of their experiences". Signing a corporate covenant would reinforce the good work already happening, and provide fresh impetus for more.

The Revd Sue Rose (Bath & Wells), herself a Navy wife, asked whether it was possible for parochial clergy to be told when there were service personnel and their families living in their parish, as it was sometimes hard to know.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford) moved his amendment, which, he said, merely clarified the position of community covenants, now signed by almost every local authority.

The amendment was clearly carried.

The Dean of Portsmouth, the Very Revd David Brindley (Southern Deans), said that his only hesitation about supporting the motion was whether it actually meant anything in practical terms.

Lt Gemma Winterton (Service Chaplains) said that her church had been supportive of her during her service in Afghanistan. Her commitment to the Navy meant, however, that she was away often. "I have been told I'm not committing as a Christian, because I'm not on the rota for the Sunday school, or coffee after the service."

The Revd Charles Razzall (Chester) drew the Synod's attention to those working in the defence industries, and in the intelligence services: "We must try to encourage business to provide the right opportunities for those who find it difficult to find employment."

The Revd Ruth Hind (West Yorkshire & the Dales)requested that the briefing be made to all parish clergy. Some of the Forces' spiritual needs would be met by their chaplains, but "that does not mean the rest of us have nothing to contribute." The Covenant should not be interpreted as "unconditional support for the Armed Forces". It was "not appropriate for the Church to be a cheerleader to the Forces".

The Revd Ian Wheatley (Service Chaplains) said that Forces families felt "isolated". The Church had a "golden opportunity to connect with military families, helping them build up the body of Christ".

The Revd Paul Cartwright (West Yorkshire & the Dales)said that the Covenant required action as well as words. He urged bishops to identify someone who could champion the Covenant in the dioceses.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark)suggested that there had been an "enormous change in public attitudes" towards the Forces since the late 1980s. There was a danger that we "use the language of heroism too easily". The romanticisation of service "diminishes its importance in society, and reduces the humanity of those serving to mere ciphers".

The Dean of St Paul's, the Very Revd Dr David Ison (Southern Deans), said that, two weeks previously, his son had come back from flying helicopters, while five of his colleagues had come home dead. The Forces were "sent out to do our dirty work. . . Let's love, recognise, and honour them."

The motion was carried by 393 to 2 with 3 recorded abstentions. It read:


That this Synod, believing that the commitment of those that serve in the Armed Forces demands a reciprocal obligation from the Nation to ensure that they and their families are not disadvantaged:

(a) ask dioceses to reflect on the Armed Forces Covenant and to consider signing Community Covenants, where not already signed, and Corporate Covenants, setting out how they can meet both the pastoral and spiritual needs of the Armed Forces Community, including serving personnel, regulars and reservists, and military families located in their own diocesan area;

(b) invite the Archbishops' Council to sign a Corporate Armed Forces Covenant setting out how it will provide pastoral and spiritual support for the Armed Forces Community, including serving personnel, regulars and reservists, and military families; and

(c) ask the Archbishops' Council to report to Synod in the next quinquennium on the implications of the recommendations set out in The Church and the Armed Forces Covenant (GS 1960).

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