Friday, 12 March 2010

Catterick Garrison

Yesterday I visited Catterick Garrison and the chaplains who work alongside the soldiers and families there. I spent the day with Methodist Chaplain Padre Richard Smith who told me about his role as an army chaplain as well as showing me around the base.
Richard is part of the ecumenical chaplaincy team at St Aidan’s Garrison Church. Soldiers, their families and members of the local community all use the church and hall and there are a large range of activities taking place there every week.

However most of Richard’s time is spent directly with soldiers in training at the garrison. Basic training takes 6 months and during that time teenagers and young men will experience a rollercoaster of emotion. They are introduced to the chaplain right at the outset of training and very quickly an important bond is developed. The chaplain is always on hand to offer help and advice, someone who will listen to worries and concerns and who can act as bridge between ordinary soldiers and officers. There can be few places were young men are so willing to talk to a Christian minister and where the Churches presence is so valued.

We spent some time in a battlefield. Fortunately it was only an exercise and we were able to talk to those defending the semi-derelict buildings (after we’d climbed through the window!) as well as to the “enemy” attacking them. This was part of a 4 day exercise which had included digging trenches most of the night and long marches with heavy packs and equipment which I struggled to even lift off the ground. The soldiers were tired but despite that pleased to talk to the two of us. Many of them already knew that in a few weeks they would be making preparations to go to Afghanistan.
Richard has already done two tours of duty in Afghanistan and one in Basra. Chaplains gain so much respect from the soldiers they work with because they know that they are prepared to live alongside them, even in the most inhospitable and dangerous of situations.
The chaplaincy team are also involved in the soldiers education programme. They lead a series of lectures on values and morals, respecting others even in the most challenging of settings, morality in conflict and spiritual survival skills. I sat in the final lecture given to one group of soldiers in training given by Padre David Adams.

Catterick Garrison is in reality a small town, with a population of around 30,000 and with all the services that you would expect, including 5 schools. The Swaledale Methodist Circuit is exploring possibilities of a pioneer minister to further develop work with service families and those who work within the garrison. It was therefore good to share lunch in the grand surrounds of the officers’ mess with 2 of the circuit ministers together with the chaplaincy team.

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