Army Chaplains' Blog

Back to where it all started

Posted on: May 15, 2017

[The Army has a long tradition of generating theological students and ordinands, often sponsored by the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department. Here, the Rev’d Sheila Moreton reflects on a journey that began in the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) some thirty years ago.]

Sponsored by the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department thirty years ago in what was then BAOR, the Reverend Sheila Moreton went on to train as a Deaconess in the Church of England. On the eve of retirement she came back to Germany to provide some respite for  a serving chaplain looking after the Rear Operations Group in Fallingbostel, by taking a Sunday service.

Having started as a deaconess in Düsseldorf in 1984 and then ordained as a deacon – one of the first 10 to be ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury – Sheila worked alongside the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department in what would prove to be a forerunner of the Community Chaplains of today.

This recent trip proved to be an opportunity for Sheila to return to the Army environment as an ordained vicar, leaving behind her three parishes of Wilden, Colmworth & Ravensden, in the Diocese of St Alban’s.

“I don’t remember us having the information and communications that you have here today”, she said as she visited a welfare centre, “it is wonderful to see how the Army has improved and moved on in supporting the families of soldiers in Germany.” During her time as ‘wife of’, as wives were then referred to, Sheila lived in countries as far afield as Bahrain, Hong Kong as well as across Germany and the UK.

“It is such an honour to be able to help out during this period of deployment but also to have this great opportunity to bring my career to an end in the same country where it began professionally. I have always helped in the church community but it was when we were stationed overseas that I felt that I could do more to support families through the church”, explained Sheila whose husband, Alan, retired as a lieutenant-colonel after a thirty-eight year career. “Having been a young wife of 21 years old having a baby far away from close family in Bahrain, I felt that I could relate to the younger wives and families by offering support and guidance for them through the military maze. It has been a journey for me where I have used my experience as a wife and mother in the military environment in the parishes that I have worked in. Coming back and seeing the changes in Germany is both fascinating and uplifting. There have been some very positive changes, although I suspect that those experiencing them now may not see it as such!”

Recalling her first services in the initial few months after her ordination as a deaconess she said: “I remember I did three christenings, as the families were Church of England, and the children were all called Christopher. Wearing the cross that I received when I became a deaconess is a reminder of where I started.”

Ordained women serve in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department under the same terms as their male counterparts, providing spiritual support to soldiers on the front line across the world. Whilst this is no longer an option for Sheila, the opportunity to be back in a military community as a fully ordained priest of the Church of England felt as if the circle was complete.

“Of course retirement is daunting for anyone, but this chance for me to come to Germany to again be amongst the military community has been very special. Even when you leave the Army community you know that you have been part of a very special organisation and the sense of community remains with you wherever you go. This trip has given me some time for reflection on where my career has taken me and I am grateful to those in the Chaplains’ Department who gave me support throughout my training. I never thought thirty years ago that I would be back amongst the Forces families as a fully ordained member of the Church taking a service. What a journey it has been!”

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