Stuart Hull writes this encouraging message to those who serve in the Armed forces. A fantastic opportunity to share with soldiers the Christian message of hope.
The literature of both Old and New Testaments is rife with conflict and life changing challenges. The ill-equipped Moses feels the terrifying depth of his own fears and failings as he is called to undertake a mission like no other. The soon-to-be prophet Isaiah laments the tragedy of his people’s sin, surrounded, and overwhelmed by the full array of God’s majesty, and yet is given the strength to answer God’s summons with the simple utterance, “Here I am, send me”. The Apostle Paul is plagued with mockery, beatings, and imprisonment, yet still writes joyously of the great gift of the Gospel, even whilst under arrest.
However, I have always found that one of the most challenging commands from scripture is found in these words from Jesus, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” What a marvellous and yet utterly daunting commission laid down for each us as fellow ministers in His service. Each of our ministries will act out this divine command according to our context, faced with its own joys and challenges. For those of us called to serve as chaplains within the Armed Forces, there stands a fantastic opportunity to act out this message of hope.
Regardless of a person’s faith or expressed lack of faith, as an army chaplain I am there to support and care for them. Whatever their concern, be it spiritual, pastoral, or moral, I am there for them, not only because we have a shared sense of service, but also because as a Christian I have been called by Christ to love them to the highest standard.
Army chaplains (known as Padres) train, work and deploy, often overseas, alongside those whom they serve, but never carrying a weapon. This style of ministry presents many challenges, whether it is the rigours of military training, with its long days, little sleep, or marching practice. You may find yourself supporting a large number of people, each with their own concerns, whilst simultaneously preparing yourself for a deployment which will call you away from your family for many months. All of this might sound intimidating, however time and time and again you are brought to the realization that it is a privilege to care for those who sacrifice so much in service of something greater than themselves.
Soren Kierkegaard famously wrote of the great depths to which Christ’s divine command of loving our neighbour as ourselves will take us. A love of radical non-preference, inclusive of all who have been made in God’s image, and founded not upon human nature, wisdom or experience, but rather upon the express command and example of Jesus. Chaplains are given the duty of caring not only for the soldiers and officers within their unit, but all of those who are caught up in the maelstrom of conflict, including enemy combatants.
The history of army chaplaincy is marked with the example of chaplains faithfully stepping into danger in order to offer hope in moments that might otherwise appear consumed by darkness. They endured the horrors of trench warfare in the offensives of the Somme, ministered to soldiers of all nations as they shared in the captivity of their comrades in the camps of the Second World War, and adapted to the demands of contemporary conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Love, agape, love as Christ defined it, entails sacrifice. To love my neighbour as myself I inevitably end up sacrificing some part of myself for their betterment, in imitation of He who offered everything for our salvation. As a chaplain I can embrace the cold and wet of a field deployment, catching a rare moment of sleep in the same rain soaked hole for several nights, because in the end, it’s totally worth it. More than once I have taken rest in yet another block of woods, with the stars above me, and heard, “Padre, can I chat to you about something…”
No matter how tired I am, no matter how stressed, that soldier is more than worthy of my help. Their vocation is a challenging one, and they work very hard at it. The ministry of chaplaincy allows me to offer them more than merely my sympathy. As a chaplain I can grab my kit and step out alongside them, sharing in some of their challenges, so that I may care for them in remembrance of He who has always cared for me.
Revd Stuart Hull is a Church of England minister who trained at Wycliffe Hall. He serves as an Army Chaplain.
We have a book available on the Armed forces by John Neil. To check it out click here: Commemorating War and Praying for Peace: A Christian Reflection on the Forces