Chaplains share war’s perils

Published November 1, 2001

Maj. John Fletcher, Anglican army chaplain with the Canadian Forces, ministers to troops training in Norway.

As Canadians on Remembrance Day this month commemorate those who have fallen in war, they also face the reality that their armed forces are being called to serve in a new war stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

When troops are committed to action, chaplains are there beside them. “We know there’ll be chaplaincy coverage,” said Archdeacon Tim Maindonald, an Anglican and commodore in the Canadian navy who was installed in Ottawa on Sept. 16 as chaplain general to the Canadian Forces. (As of mid-October, it was not yet determined which chaplains would be traveling with troops to Afghanistan or any other theatre of combat.)

Archdeacon Maindonald was appointed to a two-year term by the Defence Minister on the recommendation of an inter-faith committee. The post alternates between Roman Catholic and Protestant chaplains.

At the installation, Bishop Andrew Hutchison of the diocese of Montreal and the Anglican Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces, noted that “the world was blasted into a new awareness last Tuesday. It was a moment that redefined warfare in which the enemy is no longer identified by uniform or even nationality.”

Chaplains across Canada, in interviews with the Journal, say they are responding to heightened levels of tension on the part of Canadian Forces personnel and their families.

“We get the feedback from our chaplains. When there is a crisis in the world, people tend to come to the chapel to think and pray. Our chaplains see more people and chat more people up, but we tend not to reside in buildings; we’re on the move and always present,” said Archdeacon Maindonald.

Of about 56,000 active members of the Canadian Forces, roughly one-quarter are Anglican, said Archdeacon Maindonald. About 150 chaplains in total serve the forces, with about 25 Anglicans serving the regular forces and 19 serving the reserves, according to Canadian Forces and Anglican church figures.

Lt. Cmdr. Richard Durrett, Anglican chaplain at CFB Gagetown, near Fredericton, noted that the forces were “in a wait and see mode. Our church attendance is markedly up in the last few weeks, up about 25 per cent.”

He also said he has had more calls from family members. “They’re worried about their children – what do we say to our kids in light of what has happened, in light of a call-up,” he said. However, he noted, Canadian Forces personnel join “with their eyes open” and have recently served in such volatile areas as Bosnia and Kosovo. Lt. Cmdr. Durrett himself served with a battalion on a peacekeeping mission in Eritrea and in Cyprus in 1993 with a UN mission.

Major John Fletcher, area chaplain for Land Force Central Area Headquarters, which is army headquarters for the central part of Canada, based in Toronto, said people have been seeking out chaplains “to pray for the leadership of the United States, for the victims.” Major Fletcher supervises 50 chaplains of several denominations – Anglican, United, Roman Catholic.

Several days after the terrorist attacks, a chaplains’ meeting “took on an extra dimension,” he said. “Part of my responsibility is to be chaplain to the chaplains.” While chaplains are well trained, he said, there were feelings expressed that “we are inadequate to the task of giving answers to the questions that come to us” concerning the terror attacks. “How do we help people process the feelings they are having and our own anxieties about our world? There is some sense of disquiet about what is coming next.”

Chaplains, he noted, go into battle with troops. But not only are they not authorized to carry a weapon, they are not authorized ever to use one, even in self-defence. They train with weapons just to learn how to make a weapon safe and not risk further injury, he said.

Even during training, chaplains go into the field, Archdeacon Maindonald said, and set up a portable church in a tent among the troops. “In a field kit, you would have a chalice, patten, cruets, candles, hosts, linens, holy oil, probably augmented with plasticized liturgies,” he said.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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