Army Chaplains' Blog

Archive for September 2010

Ever had a perfect day planned only for everything to be against you?

I had arranged to play Golf with my dad. A late Birthday Present (from May but time had been against me!). My husband was running a Marriage Preparation course in a church, I wasn’t needed and the weather looked perfect, so everything was arranged! I was up early, golf clubs prepared and ready to go…BUT then the car wouldn’t start!! I am no car enthusiast… stress!! I called the AA, but of course our cover didn’t include HomeStart so I had to pay extra…to be fair the AA arrived within 15mins but then I had to buy a battery (quite expensive) and in amongst it, I managed to ruin my radio – my fault, not theirs! By the time I left, the traffic around Stonehenge was horrendous so an hour journey took a great deal more – all whilst the sun was shining brightly – taunting me!

Now if you know me, such an event would normally have stressed me out big time, I am not great with patience or spending too much money!! But rather than being angry all I wanted to do was to be with my dad and to play golf. I was left thinking no matter the cost or effort I just want to me with my dad today!

I eventually got to my dads, several hours later, and we did make it to the Golf Course and I have to say it was glorious. The sun was bright, course incredible, greens lovely, I was with my dad, even the birds were singing, a squirrel was out eating nuts (just missed him, as the ball sailed over his head!) and as I looked back at one point I saw Glastonbury Tor and Wells Cathedral as a backdrop. The afternoon was Gods creation at its best. It just all seemed perfect and worth the hassles of the early morning. Ok, then Dad tried to choke on a Mars Bar, he nearly hit the players in front (it was quite a drive) and I broke my shades, but in spite of this it was a great few hours of being in Gods creation with my dad (my golf playing wasn’t too bad either, except for an evil bunker on the 11th!).

Why do I say all this on the Blog? Well, I am mindful this week I am spending time in two conferences, the first is AWESOME, an ordained evangelical Anglican Female priests gathering and the latter part of the week at an Anglican Army Chaplains Conference. Hopefully during these two conferences, with prayer, Bible Study and Services I will be spending more time with my ultimate Father, God Himself. Being a Chaplain in the Army is fantastic – hopefully this blog has given an insight to it, but at times we can become too busy, doing this and that and sometimes like all of us, we need to take time and stop to be with our Father in heaven. I have been mindful of God’s generosity lately, not least at a Fijian Prayer meeting which I attended, where God gave me a specific word for them all, which seemed to be just right. God is Good, especially when I have been crazy busy…

So, this weekend I ended up spending a lot of money and time to spend an afternoon with my dad and I have to say it was worth it. If only sometimes I was so eager to spend such time with God…I am hoping this week is one of those weeks. Wait to find out in the next blog…

Although the majority of a Padres time is spent with serving soldiers, let us not forget those who love and support those in the Army. Being married or living with anyone presents challenges as well as joys, but being with someone in the Army can throw up even more. Extended periods of absence, not just while their loved ones are deployed, but during Long Exercises, anti-social hours and the uncertainty of long working days means long periods of being alone. Add to this the fear they often live under, not always knowing where their loved one is, let alone what they are doing! Long periods of absence are often followed with longer leave which can bring it’s own strains as well as joys!

Like in some other vocations, being in the Army for many is more than just a job, it becomes a way of life. Some love it, moving around, living in different countries, meeting different people, but others can find it hard to adapt! There seem to be a growing number of spouses and partners choosing to be ‘unaccompanied’, living near their family and friends in their own houses, only seeing their partners during leave or the occasional long weekend. Moving around every few years can make finding jobs difficult (just ask my husband), making deep lasting friendships can be hard, let alone finding schools for children and everything that comes with that. Some partners of course love it, enjoying the independence and experiencing new places. The Army itself does do a lot to try and make things easier and has many Networks and Organisations to help out. But the unsung heroes, I feel, are the partners themselves, who look out for each other, meet up for coffee, go to toddler groups, raise cash for charities and everything in between.

The Fusiliers Families committee, thus including both female and male partners, as well as remembering the single soldiers, raises money, has fun and gets things done. Meeting regularly they organise events such as Christmas Parties, SAFFAs Big Brew (the week after next), as well as providing events to mix and mingle. Recently fr our families we had had B-B-Q’s and Tea Parties, where the children had fun in the garden, while mums and dads had a rest over a drink. Coming up we have Bingo, and a Night at the Races before Christmas dawns its head. Week in, week out there is Coffee Pot, which is as it says, a drop in coffee for everyone to have a chat and buy a Yankee Candle…Our RSMs wife Marie has been amazing gathering people along, and has been working tirelessly ordering, displaying and selling our candles. 1RRF are very blessed to have an amazing Families Welfare Team, who are often on the right side of the Barbie, a paint brush, or any event helping out! But compared to Germany the team is small and they are kept very busy.

It’s great for me to be included in such times with the families. I think one weekend coming up, I have a wives do, paint balling and cinema with the ‘youth’ and a children’s party, in all the name of being the Padre! The children get to see ‘Padre Tracey’ as more than just someone who goes into their assemblies and I get to chat about all sorts with the adults. At times I can answer questions and speak about what the guys actually do on exercise! So, when we think of our soldiers and all of their hard work, let’s not forget the unsung heroes, the partners.

I have been greatly encouraged over the past few years to have seen so many Towns and Cities welcoming troops back and giving them Freedom of their areas. Last year I was involved with 26 Royal Artillery with their Parade through Birmingham and yesterday I was in Nuneaton waving The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers on as they marched through the city. The People of Nuneaton and Bedworth turned out and welcomed our soldiers with speeches in front of the City Hall, followed by a great lunch and more speeches. It was particularly poignant as we were joined by some local families of soldiers who were killed whilst in Afghanistan last year. A humble reminder of how many Battalions and Regiments continue to grieve the loss of members of their extended family.

From a spectators point of view the parade looked fantastic, led by the band, our soldiers marched in time, and the colours were carried with pride. As someone who has previously confessed to not having been blessed with ability or aptitude to march, I marvel all the more. A sneak preview of their first rehearsal last Monday however, did give me a sleepless night, but practise, dedication and a week of rehearsals did the trick and it was great.

During the lunch I was mindful of how different all of our soldiers are. I noticed some who had only turned up to the Battalion a week ago and then others who just by looking at their breast full of medals had clearly been serving for many a year. And yet together, inspite of their different experiences, age, tours and length of service they marched as one for the people of Nuneaton and Bedworth. We have many soldiers from the local area and there was many a proud family member and girlfriend. One Aunty was receiving a special thanks for her contribution to the Fusiliers Aids Society. Bless her she had declined any presents for her 65th Birthday and instead raised £500!

After the past year of 1RRF often being on exercise, in cam cream or disguised as Afghans for training purposes, it was great to see them all in their service dress looking smart. I hardly recognised them in fact. It was great to be part of this special occasion, to talk to the Mayor, Councillors, the British Legion, many a person associated with the Regiment and of course to be there for our soldiers giving out haribo! If you missed them and fancy having a look, this week they will be out again, this time in Warwick for the Regimental Gathering.

The Army gets very used to having ‘Potential Officers’ visiting during the year – young men and women interested in joining up. I don’t think it is so used to ‘Potential Padres’ lurking around. 1RRF and several units this past week have been blessed to have several Theological Students spending time with them. Last week they were at training establishments as well as a few units and this week it is the turn of Tidworth and Bulford Garrison. Today amongst seeing many soldiers, looking in vehicles, visiting the Boxing squad, meeting the Col, having more cups of tea than they knew what to do with, doing P.T (yes they survived a circuit ran by PTI’s), preparing a reflection for Garrison Radio, they also found time to spare a few thoughts for this blog. So less of me and more of them:-

Ruth, Ireland Methodist: ‘The opportunities for Chaplains to be the presence of Christ within the Army seem great and varied. It has been a privilege to meet and talk to soldiers. To hear of the high regard in which Chaplains are held and how much they are appreciated.’

Valentine Erhahon, Roman Catholic training in the Archdiocese of Southwark: I am keen to represent my seminary (St John’s, Wornesh Guilfrod) by discerning what Chaplaincy in the Army really entails. I am really humbled by the commitment of the service women and men I have met. Throughout these two weeks I have developed a broad view about the importance of the Army and Army Chaplaincy. I truly appreciate the ecumenical dimension…I have been nourished by the wisdom other Christian traditions have offered.’

John Caldwell, Church of Ireland: ‘I have been impressed by the dedication, commitment and professionalism of the soldiers. I’ve a keen interest in pursuing the possibility of becoming a Padre and this week has proved useful in discerning at a deeper level my sense of calling…in particular I have been struck by the sense of community and camaraderie in the Army.’

Jon Scarffe, Church of Ireland: ‘Having done other forms of Chaplaincy this is an opportunity to learn about that little known Chaplaincy, the Army Chaplaincy. As I have had some Army background this time is one of discernment and discovery. I am quite interested in becoming a Padre at a later stage. My impressions of Army Chaplaincy are very positive whilst acknowledging the negatives too. The time spent has been very rewarding allowing me to grow in insight and awareness.’

Back to me. In the rest of this week they are visiting more units, seeing Chefs in a Catering Competition, coming along to a few Bible Studies, going to ‘The Big Tent’ in Aldershot (more next week) and possibly asking even more questions. From what I saw they all seemed good sorts and I am sure the Army would do well with any of them considering becoming Padres in the future. For this we wait to see, as they are soon to return to Theological College to finish their training before they start their Church training for a few years. It was refreshing to hear their questions and reminded me of my own several years ago. Whether they become Padres or not, may the following be the same for all of us. ‘Whatever we do may we do it not for ourselves but for the Lord.’