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Armed Forces Covenant: chaplaincy and compromises

06 March 2015


From Mr Richard Bickle and others

Sir, - I was interested to read your coverage concerning the work of military chaplains and the new convenant between the Church of England and the Armed Forces (News, 20 February).

At the Fellowship of Reconciliation, we believe that the life and teachings of Jesus clearly show the power of active non-violence in challenging and tackling the root causes of conflict. We do not see in the Gospels any justification for the use of armed force or violence of any kind, and would see ourselves as part of a tradition of Christian peacemaking stretching right back to the Early Church.

It was, therefore, disappointing to see your coverage presented in such a naïve and uncritical tone. For example, the reported claim by the Defence Minister that there was no conflict between a priestly function and military service should at the very least be open to question.

While we believe that people serving in the military are as deserving of pastoral ministry as anyone else, it is clearly potentially problematic to have chaplains with the dual function of serving as part of the military chain of command, and therefore expected to follow orders, while at the same time being ultimately answerable to the higher authority of God.

It is also interesting to note that some of the earliest chaplains (from the Wesleyan Methodist Church) were provided only on condition that they remained under the control of their Church and not that of the military commanders.

Similarly, the claim that "the only reason we engage in war is because we want peace" barely stands up to the most cursory scrutiny. Surely the stated justification for wars is a perception of "national interest",

and the underlying causes include conflict over access to resources, personal rivalry, or collective prestige. While these are often dressed up in the grand rhetoric of moral, political, national, or religious superiority, I would suggest that the claim that the objective is to make peace is verging on disingenuous.

Richard Bickle (Chair of Trustees), Hilary Topp (Vice-Chair), Christopher Collins, Geraldine Bridges, John Johansen-Berg
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Peace House
19 Paradise Street
Oxford OX1 1LD


From the Revd Alan F. Jesson TD

Sir, - It is very encouraging to read of the signing of the Armed Forces Covenant by the Archbishops. I hope that the publicity given to it in your pages will encourage qualified clergy to consider chaplaincy in the Reserve Forces.

Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that the Cadet Forces also require chaplains in uniform, and, in my experience, chaplains in the Army Cadet Force (ACF) have invariably been under-recruited, and have received little support from diocesan youth teams.

There are currently around 41,000 teenagers in the ACF alone, most of whom will be unchurched, but will frequently respond positively to a chaplain's ministry. Add around 9500 Adult Volunteers - again in the ACF alone - and the scale of the mission field becomes apparent. I can positively say that it is a most rewarding ministry.

I would love to see all the Cadet Forces chaplaincy vacancies filled, and dioceses supporting this essential ministry.

9 Lawn Lane, Sutton-in-the-Isle
Cambridgeshire CB6 2RE


From Canon David Staples

Sir, - There are still opportunities for service when one's sell-by date is past. There are clear opportunities in retirement with current serving and veteran members of the military and their families, especially if one has in one's CV the shared experience of uniformed service.

There must be many retired priests who served, as I did, as National Service conscripts, and are now "retired". The bond of previous service gives a special entrée, and an opportunity for ministry which is received with appreciation.

After I retired, I acted as secretary to our local branch of the Royal British Legion for ten years, and was able to help the Vicar of this large parish, who is officially the Branch Padre. I have also acted as a priest in the affairs of the Royal Fusiliers Regimental Association, of which my own Royal Warwickshire Regiment is part. I have preached at the Annual Association Service at St Mary's Collegiate Church in Warwick, dedicated the refurbished Regimental Museum in Warwick, and, with their families, accompanied to Sword Beach veterans of the 2nd Battalion RWR who had landed there in June 1944.

I was privileged to conduct a memorial service at the cemetery at Douvres-la-Délivrande, and to accompany widows and their families who were visiting their husband's or father's grave for the first time.

I say this not to draw attention to myself, but to point out that oppportunities are there for us to identify and follow up. We may even have more time than pre-retirement clergy for this kind of ministry when formal appointment as Chaplains to the Army Reserve is no longer open to us on account of increasing age, although it has given me the chance to prove that I can still march in step.

David Staples
1 Sycamore Close
Bourne Lincolnshire PE10 9RS


From the Revd Donald Reece

Sir, - In the light of your report about military chaplaincy, I offer an account of the wartime ministry of André Trocme, Reformed Pastor of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France.

Some of the occupying German forces had been taken prisoner in August 1944 and were held in his parish. He preached the same sermon in French to his morning congregation as he did in German to the prisoners in the afternoon. This offers a more complete and uncompromised idea of chaplaincy.

In my experience of what was called Rhodesia in the 1970s, under white-minority rule, some of us had pastoral dealings with bereaved or injured of the families of both those who called themselves "security forces" and those who called themselves "freedom fighters". This was a less compromised and more complete pastoral foundation than that of the appointed military chaplains.

8 Lamarsh Road
Oxford OX2 0LD

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