Orkney minister recalls pioneering Royal Navy chaplaincy
Published on 28 March 2023 3 minutes read
Britain's "least qualified" staff member at the UK's Commando training centre has been recalling her pioneering career as a Royal Navy chaplain following a busy meeting of service veterans, serving personnel and their families in Kirkwall.
Rev Dr Marjory MacLean is the Church of Scotland minister for South Ronaldsay and Burray and a regular attendee at the monthly gathering of the Orkney Armed Forces' and Veterans' Breakfast Club.
The March meeting took place in the St Magnus Café, opposite the Cathedral, when 24 serving and ex-serving military men and women, along with family members, came together to eat and enjoy each other's company.
Originally from Forfar, Dr MacLean joined the Navy in 2004, at the tender age of 42, as the first female chaplain in the Royal Naval Reserve, and whilst going through Junior Officer training at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, she found herself to be twice the age of many of her classmates:
"I was completely incapable of picking up the pine poles that they carry everywhere, but you do the best you can," she said.
"Of course, where I had the advantage is, some of what they were doing involved writing and public speaking and the 20-year-old kids were terrified by all that. It's second nature to [me], so you help each other out."
Having already been ordained for 13 years, Dr MacLean served as a chaplain, on land and sea, for another 13 years, including a short spell at the Royal Marines Commando Training Centre at Lympstone, Devon:
"Hilariously, I reckon I may have been the least qualified person ever walk through those gates," she added.
In 2010, at the age of 48, Dr MacLean took a career break from her civilian ministry in the Church of Scotland and spent a year in naval uniform. During this time, she spent six weeks on anti-piracy duties in the Indian Ocean aboard HMS Chatham, put together a book of religious services, to be used at sea when there is no minister or priest aboard, and had a three-month posting as garrison chaplain in Kabul, where about five per cent of the British personnel stationed in Afghanistan were based.
Part of the chaplain's duties there was to take weekly Communion at the British Embassy. This way achieved by travelling on a Friday, "when the traffic was less mad", with the garrison's commanding officer, who would be going to a weekly staff meeting. She would then have to walk half a mile or so, outside the barbed wire, in full body armour, escorted by a couple of Gurkhas, from the HQ building to the UK Embassy.
"The interesting thing was; I'm 5' 8"; and Gurkhas aren't. So, I'm walking along with these two, ready to throw themselves in front of a speeding bullet to protect this British chaplain, and my helmet and head are sticking up above them. I couldn't have been more of a target if they weren't there in the first place," Dr MacLean laughed.
After surviving her time in Afghanistan, in February 2011, Dr MacLean returned to the Church of Scotland and moved to a new parish in Perthshire before returning to Orkney two years ago. She left the navy in 2017 and has also served as the Depute Clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1996-2010 and as the acting Principal Clerk in 2002, 2003 and 2009.
The next Orkney Armed Forces' and Veterans' Breakfast Club meeting will take place in The Neuk at the Albert Hotel, Kirkwall, on 29th April 2023.