Moderator signs Armed Forces Covenant

The Church of Scotland is strengthening its commitment to supporting military personnel, veterans and their families.

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning with Military Chaplains at the 2017 General Assembly in Edinburgh
Right Rev Dr Derek Browning with Military Chaplains at the 2017 General Assembly in Edinburgh

Right Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly, is signing the Armed Forces Covenant at Edinburgh Castle on Saturday 24 June.

He said the Church was committed to supporting military chaplains, who serve in the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, and ministering to “everyone wherever they are to be found and whatever their needs.”

The Covenant represents a promise by the nation that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated fairly.

But signing it is not an endorsement of defence policy and the Church’s ability to challenge the UK Government on any aspect of it will not be impinged.

There are around 260,000 veterans in Scotland, almost 6% of the population.

When families are added to the number, the Armed Forces Community represents almost one in 10 of the country’s people.

Recognising veterans

The Covenant states: “We recognise the value serving personnel, regular and reservists, veterans and military families contribute to our organisation and our country.

“Therefore we, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, will endeavour in our business and charitable dealings to uphold the key principles of the Armed Forces Covenant.”

The principles are

· No member of the Armed Forces Community should face disadvantage in the provision of public and commercial services compared to any other citizen

·In some circumstances special treatment may be appropriate especially for the injured or bereaved

Under the agreement to support people “pastorally, liturgically and organisationally”, presbyteries will appoint Veterans’ Champions to support parish ministers who will signpost people to the appropriate agency to ensure they get the help they need.

The Church will continue to recognise the sacrifices made by others by marking Remembrance Sunday and similar occasions.

It will provide support in the employment of veterans and look favourably upon employee and office holder requests for leave and flexible working by spouses with partners on deployment and compassionate leave.

Commitment to chaplaincy

The Covenant will give churches an opportunity to identify veterans in their local communities that the armed service charities are struggling to pinpoint.

Ministers will be encouraged to learn more about local military bases, reserve centres and Cadet training facilities.

The Covenant will give the Church the opportunity to engage in joint research into the living circumstances of veterans and their families to help inform future support packages and Scottish Government policy.

Speaking ahead of the event, Dr Browning said: “The Church of Scotland remains committed to supporting the work of military chaplaincy.

“It is mindful that much of the work done is not at the front line but on the home-front and that forces personnel are to be found in many different communities across our nation.

“Jesus teaches us to reach out to everyone, weak and strong, young and old, friend and foe, and to remember that not everyone is at the centre of things, but often on the margins.

“Where we can, we will help.”

Personal sacrifices

The Covenant was also signed by Captain Chris Smith MA FCIPD, Naval Commander Scotland and Northern Ireland), Major-General Mike Riddell-Webster CBE DSO, Governor of Edinburgh Castle, and Air Vice Marshal Ross Paterson CB OBE ADC Air Officer Scotland - the RAF's senior officer in Scotland.

It will be endorsed by Colonel Martin Gibson, chairman of Veteran’s Scotland and Eric Fraser, the Scottish Veterans Commissioner.

To date more than 1,500 organisations across the UK have signed the Armed Forces Covenant, including businesses and charities such as the Church of England.

Gordon Craig, convener of the Church of Scotland Committee on Chaplains to HM Forces, said the Armed Forces Covenant was about “providing support for a great number of Scotland’s families”.

“While their experiences, aspirations, vulnerabilities, successes and failures are varied, veterans ultimately share only one thing in common,” he added.

“They contracted themselves to a job that required them regularly and uniquely to make considerable personal sacrifices in the service of the nation.

“The wording of the Covenant will allow the Kirk to demonstrate its support of this group of people pastorally, liturgically and organisationally.”