“The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth for evermore.” Verse 8 of the Book of Common Prayer’s Psalm 121 is Captain Steele Lazerte’s favourite prayer.
It is the blessing he gives to soldiers when they ask for one. It is what he prays for as military vehicles go down the road or when he accompanies a battle group on a mission.
Padre Steele, 36, Second Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, has been an army chaplain for seven years. Now serving as an Air Force chaplain-all chaplains rotate among the three military branches-Lazerte was a young priest in the diocese of Niagara with five years of civilian ministry under his belt when he came across a military chaplaincy website and decided this kind of adventure was his true calling.
The experience has been “everything I expected and more, fortunately,” says Lazerte, who became an Anglican priest at age 24. “You get lots of training and travel. And you get a new job every three to four years, so there’s always something new.”
In 2007, he was deployed to Afghanistan for six months. He also spent some time with the Canadian Air Force in Dubai and this past winter, was deployed in Iceland for five weeks. He is currently posted at Four Wings, Cold Lake, Alta., where he is chaplain to three units. Like everyone in the military, he is “prepared to deploy within 24 hours.”
Things happen very quickly in the chaplaincy, says Lazerte. “People come and go. Goodbyes are quick and hellos are quick as well. It’s very dynamic.” And people “don’t even blink” if you have a different format of service. “It all comes down to supporting people and helping them.”
In Kandahar, where he served as battle group chaplain, Lazerte’s role was to counsel troops and help wounded soldiers. “It was a huge undertaking,” he says. Barely two months into the job, he had to perform a ramp ceremony on the tarmac at Kandahar, as 2,500 soldiers from eight countries bade farewell to six Canadian soldiers killed in a roadside bomb blast.
Lazerte admits there were times when he wondered what he was doing there. But when he came back to Canada, he realized that his role was in “being, not doing.” Military chaplains “represent, in a way, God’s will for peace rather than discord,” he says.
Military chaplains are “neutral territory,” so soldiers can talk to them about anything. “We help them by listening and by liaising with their units if they need to go home,” says Lazerte.
When the padres need support, they turn to each other, he says. “We are vulnerable just like everyone else.” Prayers from Canadian Anglicans, including St. Simon’s Anglican Church in Oakville, Ont., where his brother, the Rev. Canon Darcey Lazerte, is rector, have also been a source of comfort, he says.
Marites N. Sison is senior staff writer at the Anglican Journal.