Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for July 2010

Another very busy period; I’ve shared before how frantic things are as we prepare to deploy to Afghanistan. Exercise after exercise as skills are honed and improved in order to give us the best possible chance of success when we arrive in Helmand later this year.

Success would mean that we leave our area of Afghanistan in a better state than when we got there; success would mean that we are able to facilitate long-term community projects to enhance health, education and welfare; success would mean that we undertook all our tasks and duties with courage and compassion; and for me success would mean that we bring back all of our soldiers in one piece. I am sure that across my unit there are many different yardsticks of success.

I’ve returned today after time spent on Salisbury Plain and time spent in Northumbria. That’s the end of our main training period. All our young men and women are free for a month to enjoy themselves. Their plans are amazingly diverse. Many are off abroad with girlfriends or with the hope of finding a girlfriend, many will spend time with family and one I know will be building a worm-farm with his wife! Whatever they do I know they will be focussing on the upcoming tour.

As I get nearer to the off I am more convinced than ever that it is right that there are men and women of peace who are willing to serve the Lord on the battlefield. Where there is darkness may we be the agents of light. Perhaps the real measure of success will be a lasting peace in Afghanistan. AFW

Hopefully no-one can deny that the Army works long and hard hours. On Operations, on Exercises, even around Camp – there are very few 9-5 hours! Any complaints to such terms are often met by the reply; ‘You are paid 24/7’, but as some of the soldiers have worked out, this means some of them are paid less than £2 an hour!! But there are compensations and one of them, when the soldiers have an opportunity to take it, is quite a generous leave package! So, it is with great delight, bar a rear party, I can wave goodbye to my guys this week for a long summer break! My soldiers have worked particularly hard this past year, with exercises and demonstrations starting on a Sunday afternoon and rarely finishing before Friday nights or Saturday’s. The Battalion has been providing excellent training for those soon to deploy as well as being involved in many High Profile Visits and the recent events in Fromelles. They deserve some time away with their families.

Meanwhile I am covering leave for many Padres on the Plain. My choice to be fair. I had a couple of weeks off recently and being on call for others in August, means they can go off and spend time with their families, especially those with children! During my couple of weeks leave, I wasn’t quite sure whether it was a holiday or Boot Camp, as my husband had me training for the Chaplains walk in Sept across Exmoor. We had fun though and it was great to become re-acquainted with each other, as from day to day we don’t see that much of each other.

So for me back to work, and even though the soldiers are on leave there’s lots to do…off to Army Cadet Forces Camps, visiting our guys in Prison and those off sick, organising the Walk in Sept, conducting weddings, baptisms, Sunday services, there always seems to be something to do!! Life is never boring and i have to say I still love it.

And then New Wine this week. New Wine is a Christian festival at the Royal Bath and West Showground which combines teaching, worship, fun and everything in between. Myself and others will be there on the Armed Forces Christian Union Stall so if you are there please do pop in and say Hello!

I’ll be back blogging in a couple of weeks…have a good summer! Revd Tracey Bateson

As if I can’t get enough of sleeping under the stars, I am off to New Wine this week. New Wine is a Christian festival at the Royal Bath and West Showground which combines teaching, worship, fun and everything in between. Myself and others will be there on the Armed Forces Christian Union Stall so if you are there please do pop in and say Hello! Revd Tracey Bateson

I recently had the privilege of sitting in a Warrior, next to the Colonel as he directed an exercise. It was an excellent opportunity of seeing the Battle group at work and to see our soldiers doing what they do best. As I trundled around the Plain listening and watching everything, I was mindful of the Body of Christ. With the Colonel leading from the front, there was Battle Group Main behind him working with him, there was the QM’s providing provisions and of course there were all the officers and soldiers fulfilling their role. The Engineers, Tankies, Medics, Warriors, Royal Artillery and all elements of of the Fusiliers were there each doing their particular part. The Battle group would have been the poorer for the loss of any of them. Commands were made and action took place. To see it all in motion was incredible.

For those who know of the Body of Christ, the parallels are obvious. We too with Jesus at the helm are involved in the work of God. Some of us may have titles, others may not, but each of us, with the Holy Spirit are able to do our part, working for Christ in Christ. If any of us cease, the Body of Christ is the poorer for it.

As well as being on exercise this week, I think I have just had the best week ever in the Battalion. It was a perfect blend of being on exercise talking to our soldiers, doing a couple of Assembly’s, leading some teaching on Values and Standards, arranging the walk in Sept, doing some visits, taking a Baptism Service, going to Spouses meetings and Coffee Times. All in all it was a perfect balance of a bit of this and that…sure the hours were quite long, but there were no PCC Meeting’s or talks of the Parish Share!! My husband is currently doing a Placement with a Parish Church and while I continue to respect and admire all that Parish Priests do, I have to praise God for my lot at the moment! My hope for us all, is we may be able to work for Christ in all we do this week.

This all said, this week I have also heard from a number of our Chaplains from Afghanistan. Their letters have been sobering as they have spoken of the stark reality of being away. Each spoke of the continued bravery of our soldiers, and yet also the difficulties they continue to face and the hard issues they are dealing with. Coming from near Taunton myself, the loss of those from 40 Commando’s is clearly in my mind. Please continue to pray for all our soldiers. Revd Tracey Bateson

Thanks for the posts re. the Walk in September. I’ll post soon some more details – until then a different sport to ponder over…

Before joining the Army, I was unaware of how important Sport is to the guys but also to the Army. Apart from Golf and generally keeping fit, I have never really been into sport, so I have had to make a conscious effort to at least know the Footie and Rugby results. Rivalry and banter is massive within the Fusiliers as they come from Manchester, Birmingham, London and Newcastle, so just the occasional clash of footie teams!! Playing sport, especially Inter-Company’s and representing the Battalion is taken very seriously and helps to form identity, team cohesion as well as encouraging the competitive spirit.

Every Battalion or Regiment seems to have a particular sport which it is most keen on. In Germany with the Gunners, it was Tug of War, with the Gunners here in Tidworth it seems to be Rugby and with The Fusiliers it is Boxing. We did well in the Army Championships with a few even making it to the final, but it is the Hart’s Medals where everything really comes alive. The whole Battalion joined together in the Garrison Theatre for an incredible night of courage and good fighting spirit! Some of the guys had lost several pounds to fight at a lower weight and they had all put in hours and hours of training. The night was great, with the Company’s all cheering for their own boxers. The organisation was great and we even had a couple of models thrown in, to remind us which Round we were on!!

I was asked at one point by a Guest, whether it was right for the Padre to be there, watching the soldiers hitting each other. My reply was, ‘While I may not always agree with all that the soldiers do, I will always support the soldier himself.’ Do, I agree with Boxing? The jury is kind of out, I am undecided, as yes, people can get hurt through taking part, but then it is also a great way to exercise and for many a way to get rid of some of their aggression and anger! What do you think? Padre Tracey Bateson

Telling your own children that you are going away to Afghanistan again is hard, and it is here that the doubts creep in. Their sadness and worry for you makes you question whether or not you can go through it all again. It’s where you too question whether or not there is indeed a paradox in a Priest on a battlefield. I am grateful for the comments so far, notably from Andrew and Roger:

“My thoughts are that the church, in it’s widest sense, must be where the people are, not necessarily where we (whoever we are) think the people should be. That can be geographical, spiritual, poltical etc. The practical presence applies as much to Sangin as to surburbia. Jesus got his hands dirty. I suppose if the situation was different and we had a bad army doing bad things then it might be different, but thank God we don’t. Good question! Got me thinking too. Andrew”

“You do it because its is what God wants you to do. there are souls out there who need your help and support. They may have moral questions which need answering, may be scared and don’t have anyone else to turn to talk to, may even want to know a bit more abut God and what he can do for them. The boys and girls are out there doing the job we, the public, through our politicians, ask them to do and we need to support them in every way. The role you play is pivotal, the quiet word here, the right touch there, services in any environment, comfort to the tired (bet a bar of chocolate always brings a smile). And when all goes wrong, as we know it does, ears to listen, guidance to the hurting and the loved ones left behind. God blesses you with this role and he gives you your armour in the scriptures, your strength in his word and courage in his love. Thank you for what you do. Roger”

Confirmation to be an Army Chaplain, and indeed for ordination, came for me through the story of David and Goliath. One day I was sat reading it and it spoke to me in a whole new way. I saw David, who had expected to take some lunch to his brothers and watch a great battle, become the agent through whom God defeated the Philistines. David tried on Saul’s armour but it was uncomfortable; he went into battle with what he knew – his sling and his stones.

It said to me, ‘Antony, you have been sat on the hill watching the battle unfold for years. It’s time to come down and walk onto the battlefield yourself. You don’t need anything other than what you have already, just be faithful with your own sling and stones – don’t worry that you are not up to the job – be faithful!’

That took me to ordination, and then I revisited it later as my wife and I struggled with joining the RAChD. I took confirmation from the fact that David walked the battlefield, but remained clearly a man of God. As Andrew pointed out it is surely of utmost importance that the light and love of God is taken to the darkest and hardest places. I am also very grateful for the encouraging words of Roger, that God is our armour in the scriptures, our strength in his word and our courage in his love. Faith, Hope and Charity. I’m off this week for my personal retreat in preparation for Afghanistan. Please keep your thoughts coming. Antony FW

A change is as good as a rest and this weekend past I swapped my combats for a racesuit as a Chaplain at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. For a number of years two ordained colleagues (one a Hospital Chaplain and one a Parish Priest) and myself have been involved in outreach into the sub-culture of motorsport. We race ourselves and have competed at the Festival of Speed (our team ‘Revelation Racing’ even won the ‘Dunhill Spirit of the Event’ award some years ago). Furthermore, it was this foray into sector ministry that was one of the pieces of the jigsaw that led me to Army Chaplaincy.

Anyway, we attend the Festival of Speed over the weekend and preside at a service of Holy Communion on Sunday morning in front of Goodwood House. It’s a great opportunity and one where I feel particularly honoured to wear the uniform of an Army Chaplain. The enormous crowds over the weekend are very supportive to anybody in uniform and it is humbling to hear how proud they are of all that our young men and women do.

I wasn’t the only one in uniform; the Royal Tank Regiment were there with plenty of big vehicles and the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were also in attendance. They all reported the same thing – an incredibly supportive public who would have, were it allowed, soon had them swilling pint after pint of beer. I hope that one or two of the soldiers did get a sneaky pint in after their duties were over for the day, as it was vey hot indeed! The charity ‘Help for Heroes’ had a big stand and they too were regularly surrounded by folk eager to show their support by buying the red/blue/blue wristbands.

The Festival of Speed is a great event and it is a privilege to stand in its midst as a Chaplain and pray for the weekend. The British Army is a great institution and it is also a privilege as a Chaplain to be on the inside and pray for them. I was asked by somebody who attended our service on Sunday why I do it and why do I put up with going back to Afghanistan again and again? They said that they found a paradox in a Priest, a person of peace, being on a battlefield.

Before I answer that question on this blog for myself I’d like very much to hear from all of you who are reading this what your answer would have been? It’s not that I can’t thing for myself because I gave her what I believe was a very clear answer. It is just that this question is one of the important debates that being an Army Chaplain raises up, all my colleagues would have thought about this before they joined and I suspect many of them still revisit it on a regular basis. Please do get in touch. Antony FW