Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Report of the Committee of Chaplains to HM Forces

Being a Chaplain in Her Majesty’s forces is a privilege”. This was the clear sentiment of the address given Rev. James Gibson, Convener of the Committee to the General Assembly. He spoke eloquently of the care and dedication and pride that chaplains have for “their units” and of the ways when they deliver a full ministry within the forces even to the peril of their lives. He remembered the address given by Angus MacLellan to the General Assembly some years ago on the nature of his ministry in Iraq and pointed out how in a characteristically self-effacing manner, had “failed to mention the occasions when his life had been in danger”. “This is a full ministry, Moderator, not a ‘sector ministry’; chaplains deliver parish ministry in the fullest sense of the word. The difference is that this is ministry is performed in a different and often dangerous environment” he stated.

Rev. Gibson reported on recruiting statistics to the different services and stated with pride that successful recruitment had been achieved for the Royal Air force which traditionally has been difficult to fill from the Church of Scotland. "This might be, because the footprints of the Royal Air force is not as deep in the culture of Scotland as that of the army” he stated.

Journalist Jackie Bird spoke of her experiences during the development of a documentary series on the lives of the armed forces in Afghanistan and of the crucial role that the Padres fulfilled in the provision of spiritual and emotional support to those brave men and women. She spoke vividly of the commitment of the soldiers to their community and of the shared camaraderie that enabled them to risk their lives as an everyday ‘normal’ experience. Her comments were echoed in the address of Vice Admiral Dr. Richard Ibbotson.

The Vice Admiral is a hugely respected leader within the navy having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross after the Gulf conflict and the NATO meritorious service medal. Vice Admiral Ibbotson spoke very warmly of his personal experience of seeing chaplains at work, providing “food for the soul” and attending a wide array of pastoral matters ranging from supporting a bereaved soldier deal with the loss of a cherished friend, or the difficulties of families suffering difficulties of prolonged absences from home. "The email and the mobile phones might be a blessing, but they also bring the problems of home into the theatre of war and this needs to be managed in order to have emotionally and morally fit soldiers” he said. The role of the Padre is probably even more important now than ever before, as war increasingly becomes depersonalised. The moral and ethical approach, combined with friendship and trust are skills that Padres offer at every turn and they are badly needed in the armed forces of today.

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