Chaplaincy Divisions Join Forces

Article excerpt

SPECIAL REPORT

The first question Canadian Forces chaplains used to ask someone wanting to see them was: "What denomination are you?"

Today, the question is: "What's your problem?" If the issue is denominational - say, baptism - they'll refer the person to a chaplain of their denomination. If not, the chaplain deals with the issue, regardless of the person's religious affiliation.

It's a tremendous departure from the past and it's only taken place within the last two years. Driven by economic necessity, the move to amalgamate the chaplaincy within the Canadian Forces - which at this moment means bringing Protestants and Roman Catholics together - was not exactly met with open arms. It's one thing to embrace the idea of ecumenism intellectually. But having it forced upon you can be traumatic.

Both sides were worried about the implications; would they lose their autonomy? their religious identity?

Now both sides are singing the praises of amalgamation and they seem surprised.

"I guess the biggest fear we had was fear itself," said Brig.-Gen. Gerry Peddle, an Anglican chaplain and successor to Pelletier. "It's not that we weren't used to working together. We Protestants and Catholics used to work side-by-side, but at the end of the day we could go home not agreed. Or, we could go for days and days and not see one another. Today, the wall in this office that separated us has been taken down. And at the end of the day, we have to go home agreed because there is only one chaplaincy."

The implications of amalgamation are both physical and spiritual:

separate command structures replaced by a single command and administration for all chaplains;

Protestants (the military calls all non-Roman Catholics "Protestants,") and Roman Catholics alternate as chaplain-general (a two-year term). When the chaplain-general is Roman Catholic, the deputy is Protestant;

a new school for chaplains in Borden, Ont., has replaced separate denominational training. Courses provide training in ministering in specific environments, developing supervisory and mentoring skills, and participating in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations;

at some bases, chapels are shared, saving National Defence approximately $900,000 annually;

in every part of the country, Roman Catholic chaplains work for Protestant commanding officers and vice versa.

These are major changes, but Peddle says what's happening is an example of "effective ecumenism in action. The Canadian Forces is a microcosm of Canadian society," he says. "We come from all parts of Canada, from different regions and cultures and religions and we come together and we learn. There is no other place where we come to know each other so well."

If amalgamation is ecumenism in action, then it must also be seen as pluralism in action. Although chaplains join the Forces trained in their own traditions, they must not only express respect towards the faith traditions of others, but increasingly, they have to understand them. …

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