Veterans Chaplaincy, Supporting across Scotland

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23 Dec, 2021

Veterans Chaplaincy, Supporting across Scotland

By Rev Ian Millar, Pastor at Gourock Baptist Community Church, and Veterans Chaplain

Veterans’ Chaplaincy Scotland (VCS) has recently been established under the umbrella of Workplace Chaplaincy Scotland. As I write, there are now 12 Chaplains based across Scotland with two of us from the Baptist Union of Scotland. Although a new organisational set up, VCS accreditation recognises in, I think, all of our cases, certainly mine, work that we have been undertaking for several years.

We are all either veterans ourselves or have had a close association with the armed services in our working lives. As a member of the Executive of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Association I get to influence its work UK wide to an extent, and I work locally with veterans from all three services (and now potentially nationally within Scotland via VCS).

So what does this involve?

We are used to hearing stories of veterans these days, many of whom show incredible courage in getting their lives back on track physically and mentally. Thankfully there are a number of organisations well equipped and experienced to help. Many veterans however find it difficult to settle after service life, something that can last a lifetime in some cases. Others make great success and seem to settle into civilian life very well. Sadly, whether successful or less so, many will struggle with things unseen, moral injury, loss of worth, a sense of loss (of camaraderie and perhaps position) and the more well known PTSD among others.

While in the ‘forces, service men and women have access to a chaplain. They see them regularly, on ships, air bases, on the ground wherever troops are deployed. Yes, on leaving the services there are ministers, priests and so on but perhaps if you’ve seen Veterans at a function or elsewhere you’ll

 have noticed something, they gravitate to each other. There is a bond, a language, an experience that they share that only they understand and feel comfortable talking about to other Veterans or servicing personnel. As an example, I had a relative who fought in two conflicts. Little was shared with the family, more was shared with fellow Veterans and myself.

Veterans chaplains want to be there, present, available to listen as someone who has an understanding of or has even shared the experiences often haunting a Veteran.
How are we present?

The role is as varied as my role as Pastor at Gourock. Visits to Veterans organisations and engaging with those there over a game, coffee or simply a chat. There are things you would expect, family and personal upsets, support and encouragement to access appropriate help without the feeling of letting anyone down, funerals and other life events where there is no formal church connection. Listening, often to language you’d rather not hear but part of what the person speaking is at that point.

Parades! Some local servicemen asked me a few years ago to conduct a service to commemorate a particular battle. It was on a Sunday. “That’ll mean a church parade,” I said. The response was almost a unanimous grimace but they came. I’m blessed to have a very welcoming congregation who opened their arms and hearts to these Veterans, giving them tea, talking to them, taking time for them. The parade including church is now an annual event and they also attend church prior to our local Remembrance parade and service at the Cenotaph. This takes time but it is time well spent.

PHOTOS: In one you can see me blessing a large refurbished Argyll and Sutherland Highlanderscap badge memorial on top of Dumyat in Stirling. Around 100 Veteran Argylls attended, many I hadn’t seen for years, some very old, disabled, with one making the climb using two sticks to support himself. They took the dias to the top for me to use. The wind was strong, and the rain torrential. Just as I was about to start the short service, the wind dropped, the rain stopped. “You must have an in with God!” one shouted. You can make your own mind up about that.
The group image is following a short service, again with Argylls, at a well near Loch Thom, Greenock, built by Argylls training in the area during WW1, and restored by Argyll Veterans for the public to use. The third is the well itself.

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