What good is a CAF Chaplain?
By Major Derrick Marshall,
Senior Fleet Chaplain
In these days of mixed, varied and increasingly diverse religious and spiritual outlooks in Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), especially now (when regular and active religious participation appears to be in decline), it might make one wonder what value there is in having military chaplains around. Actually, we do a great deal of good and for people of all persuasions!
During a Deployment with Op REASSURANCE, Roto 9, at sea it was a common misconception on board ship that chaplains only look after religious personnel. People were often surprised when I was ready and willing to help and support personnel who were either of a different faith perspective than myself or of no faith tradition whatsoever. In point of fact, CAF chaplains are mandated to look after all military personnel, as well as their families, regardless of their personal religious tradition, spiritual outlook or perspective in matters of conscience.
QR&0 33 – Chaplain Services is a CAF chaplain’s mandate to minister to military personnel and their families, and sets out the scope of our responsibilities, at home and abroad on operations. Indeed, CAF chaplains in the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force, Canadian Special Forces and Royal Canadian Navy provide care for everybody, facilitate ministry needs of different faith perspectives from their own, and minister to their own. QR&0 33.06 spells it out clearly:
33.06 – RELIGIOUS, SPIRITUAL AND MORAL WELL-BEING
Commanding officers and officers commanding commands or formations shall provide for the religious, spiritual and moral well-being of the officers and non-commissioned members under their command and the families of those officers and non-commissioned members.
(C) [15 December 2014]
33.07 – CHAPLAINS
(1) The duties and functions of a chaplain at a base, unit or other element include
advising the commanding officer of the base, unit or other element on religious, spiritual, moral and ethical matters relating to the officers and non-commissioned members under that commanding officer’s command; providing chaplain services to any officers, non-commissioned members and families of officers and non-commissioned members who desire those services, including to those who are sick or in service or civil custody, regardless of the religious or spiritual affiliation or beliefs of those officers, non-commissioned members and families; and
being prepared to give advice, assistance and instruction on religious, spiritual, moral and ethical matters.
Life as a military chaplain is a unique and intense ministry that sees women and men in religious leadership serving sailors, soldiers and air personnel at the front lines – literally! – wherever and whenever they are asked to serve the national interests. This may mean we must deploy anywhere our units are deployed, both in Canada and abroad, and for some very long periods of time. It calls upon our creativity in trying to support CAF personnel to whatever degree they will allow us, whether they be religious or secular-minded, Christian or of another faith group and in some very challenging contexts.
Chaplains are on duty periodically 24/7 when we are alongside and 24/7 at all times when deployed; and can be called upon to help a CAF member in crisis, securing a leave pass to get home due to a death in the family, providing ethical advice to military members and their chain of command; or referring them to another care provider for solving matters pertaining to their mental, physical or spiritual resiliency. I have thoroughly enjoyed the varied and challenging roles and responsibilities the CAF ministry has entailed, but it is not for the faint of heart, entails much change and flexibility and a very understanding and supportive family.
Anyone considering becoming a CAF chaplain can reach out to a local CAF Recruitment Centre and they will be put in touch with a local recruitment chaplain OPI for a more fulsome discussion of the expectations and professional requirements necessary to be considered for this excellent ministry.