Military chaplaincy described as 'best job in the world'

The Moderator of the General Assembly has spent the week visiting British Army bases across Scotland.

Rt Rev Colin Sinclair met service personnel in Stirling, Glasgow, Leuchars in Fife and Kinloss in Moray to learn more about their work.

He said it was a “huge privilege” to be given an insight into their world and he and his wife Ruth now have a fresh appreciation for the role they play for Queen and country.

Shuna Dicks Keith Blackwood
Aberdeen ministers Rev Shuna Dicks and Rev Keith Blackwood serve as padres in the 2nd Battalion The Highlanders Army Cadet Force.

Church of Scotland ministers serve as military chaplains in the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.

They provide spiritual support, pastoral care, and moral guidance to personnel and their families irrespective of religion or belief.

Rev Duncan MacPherson, Senior Chaplain Scotland who accompanied Mr Sinclair, said it is a privilege to be a military chaplain and described it as the “best job in the world”.

He said: “When you ask a chaplain to the Forces what is at the heart of her or his work, invariably the first reply, almost without any need to think, is the wonderful people we are privileged to minister to and with.

“The folk that make up the British Armed Forces are very special people.

“Not because of their background, their celebrity or even the corner of Scotland or other nations that they come from.

“The folk military chaplains find in their care are remarkable, genuine, committed, curious, forthright and sometimes challenging people.

“They are bound together by a common experience and purpose to serve our communities and nation in defence.

 Rev Duncan MacPherson
Rev Duncan MacPherson addresses the Scottish Parliament

“Sometimes against an enemy or the elements or to help a neighbour in our global community – they act always for people.

“As chaplains we have the opportunity to live alongside our people, on ships, in the air or even holes in the ground, sharing rations, a corner of a vehicle and earning the privilege of sharing the love of God.

“One of our heroes is a World War One Padre called ‘Woodbine Willie’ because he shared his cigarettes with the soldiers he met as that meant they shared a few words as they shared a light and a puff.

“He used to say ‘pray with your soldiers sometimes, pray for them always’.

“We are allowed to share our soldiers' danger, living under their protection and accompanying them unarmed to places where they would not go without a weapon.

“It is the most precious of bonds of trust - they care for us as we minister the love of God to them in the darkness as well as the light.”

Rev Shuna Dicks
Rev Shuna Dicks of Cults Parish Church in Aberdeen has been a padre for seven years.

Aberdeen ministers, Rev Shuna Dicks and Rev Keith Blackwood, serve as padres in the 2nd Battalion The Highlanders Army Cadet Force, which is made up of youngsters from across the north-east.

They said it was an honour and a key part of their ministries.

Christian presence

Mrs Dicks, minister of Cults Parish Church, said:“The 2nd Battalion Highlanders covers all the units in the north-east of Scotland, from Buckie in the west to Peterhead in the east and south as far as Stonehaven and out to Aboyne.

“The main commitment is attending the Battalion’s annual camp in July, which is being held at Garelochhead near Faslane this year.

“Around 180 cadets, boys and girls aged 12-17, and 50 adult volunteers head off for 10-14 days of activities.

“Keith and I are there as an important part of the welfare team and support the youngsters and the adults when needed.

“On a practical level we run the camp bank – looking after the spending money cadets bring with them – and sometimes a tuck shop which provides an ideal opportunity to get to know them.

“We also take part in some of the activities and last summer we took part in a padres’ race up the climbing wall and had a go at paddle boarding.

“One of my favourite activities is spending a night or two ‘in the field’ with the cadets and sleeping under a basher and surviving on ration packs.

“Our battalion now has a tradition of each cadet building a church for us when out in the field.

“You might wonder what the cadets and volunteers think of having a Christian presence at camp.

“We know from what people have shared with us that our presence is greatly appreciated and the relationships that are built is one of the biggest plusses of this ministry.

“I am grateful that the Church of Scotland recognises this as part of my ministry for the last seven years and releases both of us from our parishes to attend camp each year.”

Colin Sinclair Kinross
Rt Rev Colin Sinclair said it was a "huge privilege" to spent time with the 39 Engineer Regiment Royal Engineers in Kinloss, Moray to learn more about their work.

Mr Blackwood said: “Although steeped in the Boys Brigade as boy and officer, I had absolutely no experience, or knowledge, of the Army Cadet Force.

“I thought then it would be no different to other types of chaplaincy that ministers and others undertake in schools, hospitals and to different organisations.

“A ministry of availability, support and presence.

“Eleven years on as a padre, my sense of the role back when I started has proven to be very close to the mark.

“Take out the uniform, the rank (Major), the military language and terminology, it is clear that when I turn up to undertake my responsibilities at the camp my role is one very much of availability, support and presence.

“It is a role of supporting the welfare of others and the practical care and listening ear we offer to the battalion predictably takes very many different forms.

“Sometimes people ask about what it means to be a minister and someone might ask about God.

“Yet whether there is a reference to such things or not, I see my chaplaincy as one of a calling to ministry.

“I am ‘called’ to minister to the people of my parish, to take the values, presence and love of God to the people with whom I spend precious time.

“For the two weeks of camp, the cadets and adults make-up my parish.

“Being a padre is a privilege and extremely fulfilling and it is great spending time with young people and adults away from the context of my local congregation.

“In many ways I feel re-tuned and re-booted after annual camp.”