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Archbishops sign ‘hugely important’ military covenant

20 February 2015


At the ready: the Defence Minister, Anna Soubry, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, sign the Armed Forces Covenant

At the ready: the Defence Minister, Anna Soubry, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, sign the Armed Forces Covenan...

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York signed the Armed Forces Covenant last week at Lambeth Palace, in front of the Defence Minister, Anna Soubry, and clergy and senior military officials.

The signing of the covenant was agreed by the General Synod last July, in York. It sets out obligations in the way serving and former military personnel are treated and cared for in communities.

Archbishop Welby said that the covenant was of "huge importance", and that the changing nature of the military, with an increased reliance on reservists, meant that the Churches had to reconsider how they provided pastoral care.

"There are chaplains in every part of the armed services, and that is part of the heritage of the Church that we value hugely," he said, saying that the Churches "relish the privilege to be involved in ministering with the people in the armed services. That is absolutely crucial to our understanding of the role of the Church."

But he said that the growing emphasis on reservists was "going to need a huge change in the way the armed services think about themselves. . . We value the armed services. We appreciate what they do - the very difficult things they do, very often, that we don't know about, and don't see; but for which we pray, and for which we are deeply grateful that we have chaplains involved."

The signing of the covenant was welcomed by the senior chaplains to the different branches of the armed forces. The Chaplain-General of the Army, the Revd Dr David Coulter, a Church of Scotland minister, said that the covenant was "hugely significant", and that he hoped other Churches would follow the Church of England's lead.

The Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force, the Ven. Jonathan Chaffey, said that the signing of the covenant would "reinforce what is already happening right around the country, where the parishes are supporting the dispersed service communities; whether it is through church schools and service children, whether it is the support of veterans in various drop-in centres, or whether it is just in congregations."

The Chaplain of the Fleet and Archdeacon for the Royal Navy, the Ven. Ian Wheatley, said: "Chaplaincy won't change, but I would like to see the barrier between the Church and the military [become] a little more porous; and I would like to see the men and women of the armed services, and their children, who go to church week by week, or who perhaps live by churches week by week, find it easier to go church and to access the church community; and, perhaps, for the church community to go out and find them."

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that he was concerned for military personnel who came back from deployments. "Some of them are really traumatised," he said. "When you are in the Army and serving, or in the Air Force, or with the sailors, you are almost a hero. . . But when you are not in your uniform, what happens to you? You are almost a non-person."

Clergy should consider signing up to join Britain's reserve chaplains on the front line, Anna Soubry said.

She said that there was no conflict between military service and a priestly function: "The two are not mutually exclusive in my view at all."

Part of the covenant is a commitment to supporting personnel who volunteer for the reserve forces. And Ms Soubry hopes that members of the clergy will sign up. "I think increasingly, hopefully, we will see people who will serve in both capacities - as a vicar, and as a reservist - because they have masses to offer. They are people hugely skilled, and we need them."

She said that some reservists bring their day jobs to their reservist occupation; but others see it as an opportunity to have "two completely separate occupations and skill sets. . .

"The only reason we engage in war and in battle is because we want peace. I know that might sound a bit of a perverse thing, but it is true.

"If you look at all the conflicts we have been involved in - certainly in modern times - we are not just doing it because we want to go out there and kill people; we engage in conflict because we have a cause which we believe is just. Unfortunately, in order to continue with that cause, it may be that lives are lost; but our ultimate goal is to bring peace. . . to do the right thing."

Chaplains needed, says Army

A NEW recruitment campaign run by the Army Reserve (previously the Territorial Army) is encouraging clergy to sign up for part-time chaplaincy positions with the British Army.

The chaplains would serve as part of the Royal Army Chaplaincy Department, providing spiritual support for units of about 700 soldiers and their families, and would travel with them when they were on deployment.

A survey conducted by OnePoll suggests that that more than six in ten people are not aware that the Army Reserve offers part-time chaplaincy roles. "This research tells us that people in the UK feel their jobs are lacking challenge, excitement, and the opportunity to travel," the director-general of the Army's recruiting and training division, Major General Chris Tickell, said. "Very few realise the full range of part-time job opportunities available to them as a volunteer with the Army Reserve, such as chaplaincy roles in the RACD.

"The Army Reserve offers practising professionals the opportunity for travel and adventure, as well as world-class training. . . all in their spare time, at a minimum commitment of 19 days, and whilst getting paid."

The Army is looking for people aged between 18 and 50 to volunteer for the "unique opportunities". Part-time chaplains are given the opportunity to study towards a Master of Theology degree in Chaplaincy Studies with Cardiff University.

"I've travelled to countries and seen a side of the world I'd never have experienced otherwise," the Revd Tim Flowers, a Methodist minister in the Tamworth and Lichfield Circuit and padre for the 4th Battalion of the Mercian Regiment, said. "Chaplaincy courses can help with understanding other . . . denominations."


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