Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for August 2010

Army Cadet Force and The Territorial Army: There’s always a danger with a blog that you talk about yourself and leave out what else is going on…The Chaplains Dept consists of more than just the 150 or so Regular Chaplains. There are several hundred T.A and ACF Chaplains around the country who week in and week out spend time with young people in the Cadet Force and weekends out in the field with the T.A. It has been great this past week to meet more of these Chaplains – to hear of the joy they have of being Parish Ministers, while at the same time having time out of the Parish to minister in different ways. It’s great that these parishes have a wide vision to let their clergy don the Combat 95’s and be in the field every so often.

We are encouraged to make links with our Regiments ACF, so it was great this week to spend time at Knook Camp, Warminster, with some young people associated with the Fusiliers. There were over 450 young people, but many of them must have been in covert operations so I only got to see a fraction. They had a busy fortnight of learning field craft, map reading, first aid, drill, doing confidence boosting exercises, living out in the field, time on the ranges, cooking, and any number of activities. It was great to talk to many of the young people, to hear of how their confidence had grown, how they had made new friends and learnt so much. In fact they seemed to be having such a good time and morale was so high, I nearly didn’t hand out my Haribo – but I relented and gave it out anyway!

ACF is a massive Youth Organisation and it was great to see so many willing volunteers making it all happen. I got to talk to different Padres who along with hundreds of volunteers give time twice a week for club nights and a fortnight a year for the Annual Camp. For many of these young people these Padres are the first ‘Priest’ the Cadets had come across. ACF welcome Padres in a Welfare Role, as a listener to young people, as you can imagine, quite a few end up homesick! But with crosses on their collar, the Holy Spirit embodied , they also witness to the love of God. If you are a Minister interested, training is provided in the beautiful surrounds of Amport House and there are vacancies around the country (plug over!).

Meanwhile I eagerly await the return of my own Battalion and I wait to hear what they may have got up to after their leave!!

No I’m not talking of my preferred Cereal (Special K, if you must know!), but rather the work of MCTC (The Military Corrective Training Centre) in Colchester. In meeting with my soldiers, I have had the privilege of visiting this establishment several times. It was only during a watch of the recent film ‘A-Team’ however, that I realised just how special this centre is!! The U.S have their own correctional detention facilities for Army Personnel (as seen in the film), but they resemble a regular detention centre, full of handcuffs, being locked down and the like. MCTC is not a prison and so as I don’t get it wrong, the official description from the Army MOD Website is:

‘The principal function of the MCTC is to detain personnel, both male and female, of the three Services and civilians subject to the Services Disciplinary Acts, in accordance with the provisions of the Imprisonment and Detention (Army) Rules 1979 I & D[A] Rules. The MCTC is an establishment that provides corrective training for those servicemen and women sentenced to periods of detention; it is not a prison.’

Soldiers attend for a variety of reasons; being AWOL (Absent WithOut Leave); fighting; fraud etc. While is it not a prison, pay is stopped and there is a reduction of privileges, the greatest of which seem to be having no mobile phone or access to facebook!! Soldiers spend a lot of time getting back to basics, doing ‘drill’, soldiering skills, physical activity, education and for those soon to leave the Army, resettlement training. There is no escaping before you are released and the place is squeaky clean, quite literally! The corridors are so highly polished, as I walk along them, my boots squeak and their lockers are like something I’ve never seen – I am almost scared to breath in case I cause something to move out of place!

The re-offending rate and return to MCTC is very low and I think this is less about the fear of return and more about the excellent work the Centre does with our soldiers. There is time for them to think, to address issues, to receive help. All of the Staff I have met are great, The Welfare Team are excellent and the fantastic Padre Stevenson is never far away with his ‘Jelly Bean’ run. The Sunday Morning service gathers many soldiers together, some wanting to break the norm, others perhaps eager to share in the Communion Wine, but many hopefully reflecting on why they are there and how God may be able to help them. Alpha Club, which started as an Alpha Group, continues each Sunday afternoon with an outside worship band leading their time together. Outside speakers have included’ ‘ToughTalk’ and the like and at time as many as half the Centre have attended.

It’s always lovely to be warmly received by my own soldiers (especially as I have made the effort of battling with the M25 to see them), to have a bit more of an indepth chat with them and to catch them up with what is going on back in camp! At their desire, I even get to pray with some of them. In this past week I even caught up with some soldiers from a previous unit in Germany. We spent ages catching up on old times and people we knew!

From what I have seen, MCTC is going from strength to strength, and every person I have seen who has spent time there, has come out the better for it. On arriving back in the Battalion, there is the understanding that they have served their time and it’s back to normal jogging. Interestingly many soldiers after MCTC, coming out more disciplined, focused and ‘sorted’, turn around to such a degree, that they are usually promoted within a short while. It is interesting in talking to many Sgt Majors that they had a stay in their more youthful days. Doing wrong, spending some time being disciplined, and then being forgiven and left to get on with it, often for the better…well it has to remind you of a relationship with Jesus doesn’t it??

August is often a quieter month, with many in the Army on ‘Leave’, but there always has to be a Padre on duty and for now, I’m it. It’s been a strange week too, because although the week has been with soldiers, it has been less of bimbling around and chewing the fat and more of being a Priest in the Parish sense. The weekend has been filled with weddings and church services, and this week baptism, prison and pastoral visits are all in the offing. The Baptism visit just shows how small the Army is – the door opened and it was a Sgt from a previous unit of mine. I had already met his little girl, albeit at just the tender age of 1 day, as I visited them all in hospital in Germany! This week, I am now even doing a funeral. So for all of those who have shown concern that Padres ministering in the Army are often out of the real world, I would have to disagree! Our feet remain on the Parish ground…

Thankfully the weddings went off well, being in the Army, the couple not only turned up on time, they were five minutes early. The couples looked gorgeous, each Bridegroom making the most of saving a few pennies by wearing their ‘blues’ and we prayed for the Armed Services but apart from this, they were regular weddings. Remembering my own wedding day, I made sure they had the occasional few minutes to themselves, even shooing the photographer away at one point after the signing of the register, just so they could smile at each other and chat a little, before boom, the flashing of the cameras resumed!

In amongst the nerves of the couple before the wedding, in trying to achieve a lighter moment I was reminded of my curacy and the three incidents I heard of my Parish Priests. At a wedding a very eager Priest with a fountain pen that wouldn’t write, shook it just a bit hard and it splashed all over the brides dress!! Not quite as bad, but nearly, the same Priest at a funeral was just about to step into the service when the Funeral Director advised them to put their glasses on, as what they thought was their Eulogy and Sermon was in fact a tax return!!! Bettering this was the Incumbent who at a Baptism set himself on fire with a candle but no-one even told him! It was only when he heard squealing beside him saying; ‘the Vicars on fire’ that he looked down and saw his arm was actually on fire. Not wanting to murky the baptism waters, he calmly patted himself out and carried on!! Shame he’s now over 50, otherwise with being that calm under fire, I’d be trying to recruit him into the Chaplains Dept. So, yes I am a Padre but always a Priest…

I have been to Iraq, Kuwait, Germany and Canada in the past two years however.’ This was my response to a hundred times of being asked at New Wine (Christian Festival in Shepton Mallet), whether I had served in Afghan! The follow up question was always ‘So, when are you going?’ I replied politely, ‘I don’t know, when I am deployed.’

Once these questions were out of the way, I was often able to go on to have many great conversations. With people; who had served themselves; who had loved ones serving; who were interested in joining up, as well as many people who just wanted to know how to pray for our Soldiers. The sample Ration Packs seemed to go down well with the Children. Even making them do press ups and burpees for the Brown Biscuits and Pate, didn’t seem to put them off! You could always tell those who had served, as they politely declined a taster!! It was a great week of sharing in people’s journeys, as I stood on the AFCU Stall.

I had to laugh at one point though, as I could tell I was at a Christian Festival and not in the field with the Battalion. I slammed by thumb in a car door and blood spluttered out. I caught up with a first aider who not only cleaned it and dressed it, but they prayed for me and then even had a ‘word of knowledge’ for me. It made me laugh, because if it had happened amongst the soldiers, they would have called me a ‘lunatic’ and told me to ‘man up’.
I got to chat, listen and pray with hundreds of people. Several questions came up time and again, the most popular were; ‘Is it right for Christians to kill in war?’ ‘Is it right to fight in a illegal war?’ ‘What are we doing or soldiers who have left the Army and ended up on the street?’ I wonder what your response would be…

Back to my first response; ‘No I haven’t been to Afghanistan…’ It is a tough one. I know many people who have gone and do not want to return. I know of people out there who are finding it hard – Who wouldn’t be? I cannot really imagine how tough it really is and I would not relish telling my family that I was deploying, but there is still a very big part of me, which wants to go out. To serve, to do my bit, to get alongside our soldiers at the worst of times, to experience, to see whether I can hack it… I know of some people soon to deploy who would perhaps like to swap with me, and yet it is not my decision…so I remain for the moment in the U.K praying for those who are out there, serving where I have been placed – Tidworth…for this next week, visiting ACF Camps, those in Prison and the like! Revd Tracey Bateson