By Gregory Girard
After pastoring my fourth congregation, my children suggested that I should consider being a Canadian Forces chaplain. This was at the height of our war in Afghanistan, and support for our troops was pretty high. It was a chance to serve our nation, and our men and women fighting for it. Seven years later, I have matured in the role, and still love the adventure and challenge.
As a CF chaplain my role is officially described as officiating at special functions, religious services, and ceremonies, being an advisor to the commanding officer on spiritual and morale issues, and assisting in the general welfare of the troops in the unit. These broad categories are often filled with a variety of situations and circumstances. It is a much different environment than my 18 years as a pastor. My preaching schedule is not what it used to be, but the number of those who come to me with spiritual issues (though they may not seem like spiritual issues at first, or to them) has been challenging.
As a chaplain in the CF I have gone to places in the world that I likely would never have gone, and seen a side of the world that I would not have known existed otherwise. Also, the struggles people can face when put in very stressful situations is eye-opening. Battle has a way of stripping away the masks people can hide behind, and in turn can take away a chaplain’s acceptance of them in our their own lives. Military life can force one to engage in realistic self-reflection. It can force authenticity on you, and that is always good.
The military imagery used in the New Testament to describe the Christian life takes on a new meaning when it is part of your daily work life. Paul says, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV 1984). A soldier’s experience of hardship in training can save his life in battle. So, welcome hardship like a soldier!
There are times when the needs are beyond what we can meet. For this reason a CF chaplain is part of a team in many respects. We work with the medical officers (doctors) and social workers, as well as psychologists to help soldiers deal with the unique challenges they face in this work. We are often the voice for God, and are seen that way by many. Being a CF chaplain is a way of life—being one part of the bigger machine called the military.
Honestly, I wish I had been a chaplain at the beginning of my years as a pastor, incorporating what it means to be an officer—the mental discipline and physical and self-awareness training that is essential to success. I owe much to my experiences, and hope that in return I have made our soldiers more effective, and through them made Canada a healthier and safer nation.
Captain Gregory Girard is an RCA minister and a Canadian Forces chaplain.