Methodists celebrate 150 years of chaplaincy to the armed forces

150 years ago, the Methodist Church purchased land in thegarrison town of Aldershot to provide a place of worship for themen stationed in the camp. At last, after years of oppression anduncertainty, Wesleyan soldiers could attend a Methodist church andsing the hymns of Charles Wesley. Determined and resolute ministerslike William Harris Rule, Charles Henry Kelly and Richard Watsonbegan the legacy of Methodist chaplains serving those in the Army,Navy and RAF.

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

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

For decades, Methodist chaplains initially had no official statusin the army or admiralty, but the Methodist Conference sentministers around the world to comfort injured soldiers, accompanytroops 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; "Fromthe centurion at the Cross to chaplains serving today in the UK oroverseas - Navy, Army and Air Force - little seems to have changed.People still need to experience the love of God in places where waris the norm. It is not always pleasant, not always fun, not alwaysrewarding, but it is part of the great commission to 'go' and, aswith the Methodist chaplains who have gone before us, we few whoserve today press on in the hope that we can direct people to theSon of God."