On a visit to Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn, Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Noble McNeely, met with a number of Forces Chaplains and praised what he described as ‘a unique kind of ministry’.
The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has a long pastoral association with the Army at Regular and Reserve levels, and with the various youth organisations such as Cadets. As one of the recognised ‘Sending Churches’, PCI has ‘sent’, or provided chaplains to the military in the UK for over 100 years. Today there are ten full and part-time PCI Forces Chaplains, eight of who serve with the Army or Army Reserve. A further seven PCI chaplains work with youth organisations sponsored by the Armed Forces.
During his visit he also met senior officers and soldiers and sailors with the British Army’s 38 (Irish) Brigade, which is headquartered at Thiepval and HMS Hibernia, the HQ of the Royal Navy Reserve in Northern Ireland.
Speaking at Thiepval, Dr McNeely said: “A number of my friends at Union Theological College became chaplains in the services and I have always admired the commitment they made to a unique kind of ministry that demands total devotion and a very special kind of self-discipline.
“Chaplains have a strategic role to perform in supporting soldiers and their families, and especially younger soldiers who are away from home for long periods and require support and encouragement.
“There is also a willingness among chaplains to be totally open to God’s providence, as I am sure they are never sure of where a posting will be, or in what circumstances they will have to serve.
“I very much admire those who are called to this ministry for the discipline they demonstrate and the sense of duty they are committed to.”
Also known as padres, recruits must be ordained ministers in one of the Sending Churches and a citizen of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Normally assigned to a unit of about 700 troops, they neither carry weapons, nor bear arms.
The Church’s Forces Chaplaincy Panel is responsible for recruiting and interviewing candidates for the chaplaincy. The panel, which falls under the Council for Mission in Ireland, also provides on going support to them and their families. Convener of the Panel, Rev Prof Patton Taylor, a former Army Reserve Chaplain himself who served in different parts of the world including Afghanistan, accompanied the Moderator on his visit.