It’s not every day that a member of the clergy works on a vessel, let alone a warship on station off the coast of Iraq – but Padre Andrew Cooke is doing just that. The mild-mannered Anglican minister is making an important contribution to HMCS Toronto while she operates in the Persian Gulf.
“It’s quite different from a civilian ministry,” said the 43-year-old padre. The greatest difference, he said, is that everyone in the parish is located within an area equivalent to one football field in length and three storeys in height.
“People’s homes, their places of work and the streets in which they walk, are brought to within the confines of the ship,” said Padre Cooke.
He is the only clergy member aboard the Canadian frigate patrolling the Persian Gulf to enforce United Nations sanctions against Iraq.
Padre Cooke assists members of other faiths aboard the ship and counsels crew on spiritual, personal and professional issues. When a ship gets a change of mission, the clergyman also provides reassurance and hope to members in uniform.
“I define what I do as friendship evangelism,” said Padre Cooke.
The British-born priest does more than just minister the word and sacraments in his floating parish. On any given day, you can see him serving food to sailors in the ship’s main galley or giving a helping hand on the bridge, where he assists the officer-of-the-watch with navigation and the daily routine.
“He is a valuable member of the ship’s company,” said the executive officer, Lt.-Cdr. Tim Addison. “Traditionally, the ship’s chaplain wears no rank and the crew are more inclined to let him know of their worries, concerns or problems than perhaps they would with the senior officers. While always maintaining a high degree of confidentiality, he can gauge the pulse of the crew and keep command informed of any potential problems.”
No stranger to sea-going operations, Padre Cooke served in the Royal Navy as a radio-radar technician before emigrating to Canada in 1977. This experience, he said , enables him to better understand the sailors’ viewpoint.
“I am very comfortable with the troops,” he said , adding that he seeks to overcome what some perceive as a social barrier created by differences in rank. “I don’t mind grabbing a paintbrush or serving food in the galley.”
Like the rest of the crew, the cooks are not exactly indifferent to the work done by their minister.
“I think the crew enjoys having him around,” said the galley buffer, Master Corporal John Hartson. “We don’t have to chase him around if we want to see him. He is always available for us … He makes us feel comfortable.”
More importantly, the master corporal echoed the views of many other crew members who mentioned that Padre Cooke is a caring and giving individual on whom they can rely. “I guess that is why everyone likes to come and see him,” he said.
Padre Cooke will remain with the crew of HMCS Toronto until the ship returns to Halifax later this spring. Lt.(N) Jacques Fauteux is the public affairs officer for the HMCS Toronto.