29 June 2010

Methodists celebrate 150 years of chaplaincy to the armed forces

150 years ago, the Methodist Church purchased land in the garrison town of Aldershot to provide a place of worship for the men stationed in the camp. At last, after years of oppression and uncertainty, Wesleyan soldiers could attend a Methodist church and sing the hymns of Charles Wesley. Determined and resolute ministers like William Harris Rule, Charles Henry Kelly and Richard Watson began the legacy of Methodist chaplains serving those in the Army, Navy and RAF.

Today, the Methodist Conference (the Church's governing body) is celebrating 150 years of this ministry, which has provided support to military personnel and their families throughout more than 15 conflicts, from British colonial rule in South Asia to the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Revd Robert Jones, Secretary to the Methodist Forces Board, said; "I am always humbled and moved by the stories that our chaplains can tell of their experience of serving the armed forces. Our chaplains are non-combatants who offer critical pastoral care to servicemen and women who are under great stress and whose lives are often in danger. Their task is to live and speak in a way that addresses the pastoral and ethical issues raised by military service and 150 years on, they continue to offer a remarkable and courageous ministry."

For decades, Methodist chaplains initially had no official status in the army or admiralty, but the Methodist Conference sent ministers around the world to comfort injured soldiers, accompany troops who were stationed as far away as India and South Africa, and offer their services to prisoners of war.

Revd Stephen Hancock, an army chaplain from Abingdon, said; "From the centurion at the Cross to chaplains serving today in the UK or overseas - Navy, Army and Air Force - little seems to have changed. People still need to experience the love of God in places where war is the norm. It is not always pleasant, not always fun, not always rewarding, but it is part of the great commission to 'go' and, as with the Methodist chaplains who have gone before us, we few who serve today press on in the hope that we can direct people to the Son of God."

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