Danger, discomfort and
a unique duty
Once a chaplain finishes basic and officer training, he or she is assigned to
a unit where that ministry of presence
is lived out.
“When I was interviewed, Bergeron [the highest
ranked evangelical chaplain] made a comment to me,”
recalls Smith. “He said ‘Your influence as a chaplain is
directly in proportion to the level of danger and discom-
fort you share with your soldiers.’ ”
For Smith, that discomfort included time in the field,
tents and a recent four-day, 750 kilometre snowmobile trip.
“It’s clichéd, but it’s presence with intent,” says Maj.
Kevin Klein, chaplain at Canadian Forces Base Montreal/
St-Jean. “I’ve been in an operating room in Afghanistan
Jane Twohey, director of Mil- itary Christian Fellowship, a Canadian association for
military men and women.
“If the applicant meets the requirements, we say ‘Here’s a candidate who’s
good to go,’ and then it goes to the selection board,” says Hunter.
He marvels at how the list of evangelic-
al chaplains has grown from three or four
regular forces chaplains in 1999 to the cur-
rent complement of about 30 “represented
by about 14 different denominations.”
where all I’ve been is present and pray-
ing. I’ve blessed bodies of troops who
have been blown up and helped staff
take bodies off helicopters.”
Each day is different, says Klein, who
oversees a chaplain team of eight at a
base that includes a recruit school, basic
training and a language school.
Drawing crosses in the dust
Bergeron wanted to be a chaplain since finishing Bible
college in 1974. He applied unsuccessfully in 1976, but
What We Can Learn From Chaplains
all Christians can be inspired by the way chaplains are present
in the lives of soldiers. By Mary Manson-Hennig
Chaplains in the Canadian armed Forces practise what is known as a “ministry of presence.” Their position of ministering to a variety of denominations in settings
as diverse as a base in Canada or on patrol in afghanistan
demands they truly emphasize practice over preaching.
“I’m here for the troops spiritually,” says Paul Beckingham, a Canadian Forces Primary Reserves chaplain serving
with the British Columbia Regiment. “I give them military
edition new Testaments and talk to them about God, but
frequently I’m here to witness them, not witness to them.”
all Christians, including the everyday sort unrelated to
military circles, can be inspired by the experience of chaplains, and learn to be even more present.
neil Parker is a chaplain in Comox, B.C., at the most western
air Force base in Canada. Parker says being present is “shar-
ing the same life as the troops: eating the same food, sleeping
in the same rain. If they get up at 5:00 a.m., you get up. If they
march 20 km carrying a 36 lb rucksack, you march. If they
parachute out the back of an airplane, you parachute too.”
Parker says that it’s only in this shared life one earns cred-
ibility and trust in the army. The highest form of respect is to
hear the soldiers say, “He’s one of us.”
“The key thing to remember about a ministry of presence,”
adds Beckingham, “is that it is not a ministry of absence.” Chap-
lains start their day with the intention of relating to people. They
work hard to make those initial contacts. and then they commit
to the long, slow process of establishing trust.
“The main thing is to allow yourself to be known,” says Parker.
“When you’re with a group 24/7, you can’t fake it. and you
can’t fake caring.”
Tracy Graf is a chaplain in Halifax, n.S. She agrees trans-
parency is key. “If you eat, live and work with your flock,
people will learn that you aren’t perfect, and for a few that
will be a reason to criticize you, while for many that will be