Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Living With Emmanuel, God With Us

A Sermon For Christmas Day, Preached at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Barrie, Ontario, Diocese of Toronto, 25 December, 2018

Recently Joy and I were in the Anglican cathedral in Melbourne,  Australia, a gorgeous, soaring building that inspires awe and an otherworldly sense of devotion.  But in that space was something very worldly and real.  One of the first things we noticed as we entered the nave was a large statue looked a little like a very large Christmas tree, and the colours were festive, reds and oranges. However, as we looked closer, we could see that the tree was made out of scraps of fabric from lifejackets.  A sign nearby told us the these lifejackets were worn by Syrian refugees. The installation reminds us of how these desperate people risked drowning at sea in unsafe, overcrowded boats to escape war in their homeland.   Many of them drown at sea in the process of trying to escape.

The sculpture was there to remind us that this is the world that the Christ child enters, each and every Christmas.   As Simon+ told us last night, Emmanuel, God with us in Jesus, comes to our messy and imperfect world.  The world of the Syrian refugee in our time is, in many ways, a world that Mary and Jospeh would have understood.  They were familiar with powerful and narcissistic leaders who wanted to preserve their power at any cost, and whose whims could cause the deaths of thousands.  The story in Matthew’s gospel of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt to escape King Herod seems terribly contemporary to us.   When we see a poor family seeking safety, whether by buying passage on a rickety boat, or marching through the Mexican desert, we see something of the Holy Family in them, and we see the promise of God with Us in all these cases.

The Christmas story can seem fragile, like a single flickering candle,  How can one child, then and now, make a difference amidst so much darkness?   Yet it is John, who tells no Nativity story but puts it all in perspective, when he starts his gospel by saying that “in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5). The Christmas story is the story of how God overcomes the darkness of sin and death.  It’s a story that is as plain and simple as a crude barn in Bethlehem, and yet is cosmic in scope, as God does battle against the things that threaten God’s creation.  G.K. Chesterton put it well when he wrote that 
“…our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.”

The Victorians who gave us some of our most beloved carols put this cosmic struggle into lyrics that we need to hear with fresh ears.  Joy to the World talks about God ending the curse of Adam, as if he is reclaiming an overgrown Garden of Eden:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen tells us that Jesus was
“born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray”

And Hark the Herald Angels puts it best I think:

Light and life to all he brings, 
Risen with healing in his wings 
Mild he lays his glory by, 
Born that man no more may die”

How God accomplishes these things is a mystery yet to be unfolded, but these old carols help us better understand the Incarnation.  We don’t have to wait for some unspecified future where God rescues us from a sinful world.  Emmanuel, God With Us, means that Hope is also with us, so that we don’t have to fear the darkness or be afraid of death.   Emmanuel, God With Us, means that Love is with us, so that we don’t have to be captive to our own selfish impulses that lead us to fear the stranger or the refugee.   Emmanuel, God With Us, means that Justice and Righteousness are with us, so that we don’t have to give the last word to tyrants and dictators, the Heroes of our day.

Emmanuel, God With Us, changes the world we live in.   It defines God’s Kingdom, not as place of walls and borders, but as a place where the refugee finds welcome, where the poor and humble find dignity, and where all are treated justly.  We get a glimpse of this kingdom in Mary’s song in Luke’s gospel (Lk 1:50-53):

His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 

When the people of Melbourne Cathedral built that sculpture out of the life jackets of refugees, they were building a vision of God’s promise at Christmas, but they were also reminding Christians of their duty as followers of the Christ child.   Emmanuel, God with us, means that we live hopefully, that we act charitably, and that we work for Justice and Righteousness.    The traditional second reading on Christmas Eve, from Titus, speaks of how God will make a people “who are zealous for good deeds” (Ti 2:4).  

My prayer for us, this Christmas and in the year to come, is that we live in the unshakeable belief that Christ is Emmanuel, God with us, so that our hearts are hopeful, so that our words and actions are loving, and so that we demand justice and righteousness for all.  

May God bless you and yours, and may you know God's love and blessing this Christmas and in the year to come.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hope In The Wreckage: A Sermon For the Feast of St. Margaret of Scotland

Preached at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Diocese of Toronto, Barrie, Ontario, the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost and the observance of the feast of our parish namesake, St. Margaret of Scotland, 18 November, 2018

Texts for this Sunday: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8

1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mark 13:1-8)

"Agnus Day appears with the permission of www.agnusday.org"

The disciples coming out of the temple with Jesus, gawping at all the big buildings, are hicks who’ve come to the big city.   They’re simple people from rural Galilee, a backwater, and they’ve probably never seen anything like it.  The massive buildings rising around them were designed to impress.  The Temple in Jerusalem was meant to impress.   It was intended to be a tribute to the God of Israel, a sign of his power and glory, but it was just as much a tribute to the power and glory of the priestly regime that built it and operated out of it.  Jesus was not impressed.   When Jesus said that “all will be thrown down”, he knew that the temple was about human power and glory, and Jesus knew that human power and glory have a short shelf life.   Some forty years late, the temple would indeed be destroyed by the Roman army, and the people of Jerusalem would once again be scattered, gone into exile and slavery.

Sitting on the Mount of Oiives, with the magnificence and solidity of the temple spread out below them, I can imagine the anxiety of the disciples as they questioned Jesus. Teacher, what could possibly do this terrible thing that you are describing?   How will we know when this will happen?  How can we be ready for it?  If this was a film, you could imagine them leaning towards Jesus, their faces alarmed, and the soundtrack music turning ominous.

I find Jesus’ answer really interesting, because he doesn’t seem to care about what will cause the destruction.  Wars, earthquakes, famine, these things will happen, Jesus says, as he lists these things almost casually, as if they don’t really matter.  It’s as if he is indifferent to this horrific near future.  What matters most to Jesus is whether his disciples will remember him and his message when bad things happen: "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, "I am he!' and they will lead many astray” (Mk 13:5-6).  In other words, Jesus is saying:  “Don’t worry about the disasters that might come, just remember who I am what I’ve told you, and you’ll be ok”.  

All of this warning and foreshadowing builds up to the the final words of today’s gospel,  "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs” (Mk 13:8).   In this somewhat cryptic saying, Jesus seems to be saying that just as the brief pain of childbirth gives way to years of joy and new life, so the disasters to come, however ominous and terrifying they seem, will be replaced by some new and welcome age.   The gospel reading thus makes a turn from fear and foreboding to hope and anticipation of something good to come.   

We can relate to this contrast between fear and hope as we approach Advent and the Christmas season.  The days get shorter, the darkness and cold crowd in, and yet in our hearts and minds we await the birth of Christ.  Think of how the angels in Luke’s gospel come to everyone, starting with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13), to the shepherds in their fields, and always with the same message, don’t be afraid, because God is going to do something good.   We don’t know exactly what the birth pangs will lead to, but the Christian story, from creation to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, teaches us that God wins, and that goodness, life and order trump over evil, death, and chaos.   In the wonderful words at the start of John’s gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

It takes faith and courage to put our trust in the promise of light, when  the darkness can seem to be so overwhelming.    If, like me, you’ve seen some of the hellish video and pictures coming out of the California fires last week, you have a sense of how fragile life and light can be.  When the wildfires swept over the town of Paradise on November 8th, the smoke and ash were so thick that by noon it seemed like night.  Residents had to drive in the dark along roads edged with flames, and sadly, some did not make it out alive.   With many scientists saying that global warming and drought have made the fires in California even worse, the future can seem alarming.

"Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Jerusalem’s large stones and large buildings could not save it.  As we look uneasily towards the future, we may have that uneasy sense that whether our cities burn or whether they are drowned under rising seas, their large stones and buildings will be just as gone.    We humans got ourselves into this mess, and hopefully, if we heed warnings like last month’s UN climate report, we can stop things from getting worse.    What will certainly help us is remembering that we are God’s people, and we are part of God’s story.  God’s story, if we faithfully remember it, gives us resources of hope and truth that we need to remember in dark times.  For example, remembering the part of the story where God creates the world and gives it to us as its stewards reminds us of our responsibility to the earth and helps us when we think about climate change.  
Remembering our story is I think what Jesus meant when he said to the disciples, "Beware that no one leads you astray”.   Being faithful to our story as God’s people keeps us from going astray.    Remembering God’s story and knowing how Jesus wants us to live it our keeps us from going astray.   Putting out trust in Jesus keeps us from going astray.   Sometimes its easier to put our faith in large stones and large buildings than it is trust Jesus.    In our own time, we have lots of false prophets.   Nationalists and populists tell us that we have to look after our own people, our own kind, our own colour.   We are told that we need to close our borders, we are told to build walls to keep out migrants and refugees, we are scared by the idea that if we share with others then there won’t be enough left for us.   

Last Sunday we heard the gospel story of the poor widow in the temple, who "out of her poverty has put in everything she had” (Mk 12:44).  Jesus said that had given more than all the pious rich folk who had made their offerings before her.  This story reminds us why Jesus is not impressed by  “large stones and large buildings”.   The widow, like the migrant and refugee arriving at the border, has no status, no,wealth, no security.    Even so, the Kingdom of God becomes real in her, in her love, in her self-sacrifice, and in her devotion.   A church which is impressed by large stones and large buildings is a church which will lead God’s people astray because it misses the point, that Christ is fully seen and fully realized when the church serves the least among us.

For the last few weeks we have heard stories of migrants making their way to the US border, walking across the length of Mexico.   Some have tried to make these so-called caravans into images of fear.  What impressed me the most were reports of Mexican nuns walking alongside them and caring for the pregnant and the footsore, of Mexican priests and congregations opening their doors and feeding the hungry.   At the same time, some in the richest and most powerful nation on earth want to build a wall to keep these people out when there are jobs going begging.   One has to wonder whether this is a nation that has placed its faith in large stones and large buildings rather than in the God it claims to be one nation under.   And lest we in Canada grow smug, we also have those who would want to close our borders, and we have the poor and the hungry out there on the cold winter streets of Barrie.   Who will we serve?

Last week we heard the good news that St. Margarets has engaged an architect to start the second phase of our building.   When its done, I am sure we will be tempted to stand outside and say, “What a great building!  How big and wonderful our church is!”    Well, that will be ok, if we allow ourselves a little victory lap and a little pat on the back.   However, this Sunday, as we  if our namesake, St. Margaret of Scotland, could stand with us, what would she tell us?  What would she say about how she wanted her building to be used?   I suspect she would say to us, “In my day I was a refugee.  My family had to flee the Normans the Scots took us in.   I taught my new husband how to be a Christian, I gave my jewels and clothes to the poor, and I bought God’s people out of slavery.  What will you do with this new building that you’ve named for me?”

My hope and payer is that we could, and will, say to St. Margaret, “We put our faith in God, just as you did.  We did not build this because we put our faith in large stones and large buildings, but because we wanted to serve Barrie in our time, in the same spirit of love and faith and service that you showed to the people of Scotland, because we, like you, follow Jesus, the light and hope of the world.  Amen."

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Proposal to Reduce Political Partisanship In Uniform

Military members have to walk a line between their own political beliefs and what the State asks of them as members of the profession of arms.   In principle, it is fairly simple:  do nothing to bring disrepute on the government that you serve, but be ready to disobey an unlawful order and/or resign if your ethics and moral values make it impossible to continue to serve.

Military members owe the same loyalty to the government of the day that civil servants do, but with the extra burden of realizing that unlike workers in, say,  Finance or Vital Statistics, they have the unique capability and organization to take power and replace a government that is not to their liking.

Times of social and political polarization make it especially tempting for the military to see itself as a political actor, in the long Bonapartian tradition of the Man on the White Horse.   In the especially fraught politics of the US, the number of recently retired senior officers endorsing political candidates rises each year, lending their influence and example to serving members who may feel similarly tempted.  In this excellent essay, LCol Cavanaugh, an American Army officer, proposes a Code of Conduct to keep the military apolitical.

While Canada's military is a sliver of the size of its US counterpart, and has always stayed out of active politics, I have personally seen Canadian Armed Forces members, identifiable online as such, criticize policies of the Government of Canada on social media.  Non-commissioned members have associated with racist and extremist groups, thus violating the CAF's commitment to diversity and to mirroring the face of Canadian society.   I would suggest that LCol Cavanaugh's proposed Code of Conduct works just as well for us, if the words "Canada" and "Canadian" are substituted for United States and American.

There are dark days ahead.   Military members have a duty and a responsibility not to make them any darker.

Canadian Armed Forces Chaplain General's Prayer, Remembrance Day, 2018

We gather today on this hallowed ground on which is interred Canada’s Unknown Soldier, to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. On the Centennial of the signing of the Armistice, we honour those whose names we know, and those whose names are known to God alone.
For those of you who wish to join me in prayer,
in the respect of our freedom of religion, I invite you to turn your hearts to the God of your understanding or to take this moment in personal reflection.
Please join me in prayer or in a moment of personal reflection.
(Choir starts humming I vow to Thee my country until the end of the prayer)
Loving God,
We give thanks for those who have given their lives in the service of justice and peace. 
We know that peace is more than tolerating one another, it is recognizing ourselves in others, and realizing that we are all on the path of life together. 
Lord of peace and justice, enable us to lay down our own weapons of exclusion, intolerance, hatred, and strife. Make us instruments of your peace that we may seek reconciliation in our world. 
As we remember those who returned from past wars with injuries, both visible and invisible, inspire us to care for all military personnel who are wounded in body, mind, and soul.
Help us to have compassion for our brothers and sisters, who, for reasons known and unknown, have considered or attempted suicide.  May we be compassionate for the families and friends impacted by these tragedies.
We remember the families, friends, comrades, and caregivers of those who, in time of war and peace, have paid the ultimate sacrifice to restore peace. Be their refuge and strength in moments of grief
We pray for all military members who are deployed around the world in dedication to the welfare of humanity, and the preservation of justice and peace. Inspire them to give their best in the cause of freedom.
We pray for our Sovereign Lady, Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, for the Governor General, the Prime Minister, our Chief of Defence Staff and all in authority: that they may have the wisdom, and compassion to meet the call of their offices.
On this Centennial year of the Armistice, we remember and pay respects to our fallen by answering their call to peace.
In sure and certain hope, we pray. 
Nous sommes réunis aujourd’hui en ce lieu sacré où repose en paix le soldat canadien inconnu, pour nous rappeler de tous ceux et celles qui ont fait l’ultime sacrifice. En ce jour du centenaire de la signature de l’armistice, nous voulons rendre hommage à ceux et celles dont nous connaissons les noms et ceux et celles dont les noms sont connus de Dieu seul.
Dans le respect des croyances individuelles, j’invite toutes les personnes qui veulent se joindre à moi dans la prière à tourner leur cœur vers le dieu de leur foi ou à prendre un moment de réflexion personnelle.
Je vous invite à vous joindre à moi dans la prière ou prendre un moment de réflexion personnelle.
(La chorale commence à fredonner I vow to Thee my country jusqu’à la fin de la prière)
Dieu d’amour,
Nous te rendons grâce pour ceux et celles qui ont donné leur vie au service de la justice et de la paix.
Nous savons que la paix c’est plus que tolérer l’autre; c’est se reconnaître dans les autres, c’est réaliser que nous sommes tous ensemble sur le chemin de la vie.
Dieu de justice et de paix, aide-nous à laisser tomber nos propres armes d’exclusion, d’intolérance, de haine et de conflits. Fais de nous des instruments de ta paix afin d’apporter la réconciliation dans le monde.  
Alors que nous nous rappelons ceux et celles qui ont été marqués par des blessures, visibles ou invisibles, inspire-nous de prendre soin de tous nos militaires qui ont été blessés dans leur corps, leur esprit et leur âme.
Aide-nous à être plein de compassion à l’égard de nos frères et sœurs qui, pour des raisons connues ou inconnues, ont envisagé ou tenté de se suicider.  Rends-nous sensible à la souffrance des familles et des amis touchés par ces tragédies.
Nous nous souvenons des familles, des amis, des collègues et du personnel soignant de ceux et celles qui, en temps de guerre et de paix, ont fait le sacrifice de leur vie pour restaurer la paix. Sois leur soutien et leur force dans les moments de deuil.
Nous prions pour tous les militaires déployés autour du monde, dévoués au mieux-être de l’humanité et à la promotion de la justice et de la paix. Inspire-leur de donner le meilleur d’eux-mêmes pour la cause de la liberté.
Nous prions pour notre souveraine, Sa Majesté Elizabeth II, Reine du Canada; pour la gouverneure générale, le premier ministre, le chef d’état-major de la Défense et toutes les personnes en autorité; que la sagesse et la compassion les accompagnent dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions.
À l’occasion de cette année du centenaire de l’armistice, nous nous souvenons et rendons hommage à nos disparus en répondant à leur appel à bâtir la paix.
Dans cette espérance, nous te prions.


Guy Chapdelaine OMM, CD, QHC

Major-General / Major-général

Chaplain General Canadian Armed Forces /  Aumônier général des Forces armées canadiennes

Monday, November 12, 2018

Faithful Till The End: Canadian Military Chaplains in the Last Days of the Great War

No Canadian scholar knows the history of Canadian military chaplaincy in the Great War better than my friend, Dr. Duff Crerar.   In these notes which Duff kindly shared with myself and CAF chaplain colleagues, Duff describes the ministry of Canadian padres in the last months of the war and on to demobilization.   It is a harrowing story of chaplains pouring themselves into their work and in some cases working themselves to death.  My thanks to Duff for telling their stories.  MP+
The Pursuit to Mons and the Padres

The Canadians captured Cambrai on 9 October, having again surprised the Germans by a night attack. Already attempting to make a general withdrawal, the enemy gave way before they could blow all the critical bridges. The Second Division’s 20th and 21st Battalions saw off a surprise counter-attack by German tanks, but it was clear that the Germans were making another retreat.

The Canadians had broken through at the critical point of the Siegfried line.  Valenciennes was the next fallback for an army rapidly running out of men. Over twenty German divisions were disintegrating because they could not be reinforced. Crown Prince Rupprecht doubted that his troops would hold to December.

The chase was one. Canadians would bombard a German position, patrols would investigate, and report the Germans gone or in the process of leaving. Or, there would be a hurricane of machine gun fire, shrapnel and high explosive. Currie ordered his troops to proceed with caution, especially as the trail of sabotage and scorched earth combined with heavy rain to make casualty evacuation almost impossible. The Allies were outrunning their supply lines. Canadian soldiers, enjoying the experience of being greeted as liberators, were pausing for impromptu civilian hospitality. Belgians were handing out much of their precious hoarded food, which meant the Canadians had to rush some of their own rations forward to feed the over one hundred thousand liberated civilians.

The Germans had not all given up. Postwar critics who charged Currie with needless casualties in the last week of the war were oblivious or unwilling to acknowledge that German machine guns and artillery continued to oppose the advance, and that in many sectors local counter-attacks required continued operations. The Germans gave every intention to fight for Valenciennes, flooding the defences along the Canal de l’Escaut, with five –understrength – divisions guarding the gateway, Mount Houy. Rebuffed when he offered his artillery assets to assist the British, Currie grimly knew (after the British failed to take Mount Houy for the third time) that his troops would have to take the hill, and ruffled more than a few British senior officers by refusing to throw his troops in without full preparations. He and Andrew McNaughton, his gunnery expert, honoured their vow to purchase victory with shells, not men.

On 1 November, the all-Canadian attack blasted the Germans out of Mount Houy: the shattered survivors surrendered to a mop-up attack by the 10th Canadian Brigade. The 12th Brigade entered Valenciennes, and on 3 November the city was declared free of German defenders.

Canadian troops in Valenciennes after its capture on 3 November, 1918.

By then, General Ludendorff, de facto commander in chief of the German Army, had been dismissed. Attacks by Australians and Canadians on 4 November struggled to mop up the snipers and machine gunners left behind to cover the all-out retreat. The casualty rate plummeted, but Canadians felt them even more deeply as it was clear that war was almost over. It is a terrible thing to die at the end of a war. Most important, both to Currie and his Army Commander, General Horne, was the reality that German soldiers were not all giving up, but often continuing to cause casualties in pockets of determined resistance. The Germans gave every indication they would fight for Mons. Currie’s plan to encircle it and break in simultaneously fell afoul of such isolated pockets of the enemy. On 10 November, a company of the RCRs and another of the 42nd Battalion moved in to clear out Mons. After causing a few last minutes casualties, the Germans melted into the mist. At eleven, the Armistice took effect. Already a riotous celebration was brewing up in the city centre. It was St. Martin of Tours day, the patron saint of chaplains.

Canadian chaplains had kept pace with the troops, though 3rd Division Senior Chaplain Louis Moffit reported that holding services and large gatherings fell by the wayside in the constant shifting and shelling. Reports preserved from this period in Chaplain Service records are few. Another half-dozen chaplains were wounded by shells. Father T. McCarthy had been with the 7th Brigade constantly, and was reported among the first troops entering Mons.  Conditions had been brutal, and more than one padre could not express what they had seen in genteel tones. A.E. Andrew, an Anglican chaplain to the Royal Canadian Regiment, recently awarded the Military Cross for his work with casualties (including stepping in when most of the officers had been killed or wounded) in October, let off steam during the celebrations that followed, making some frank comments about the high command which got into the Canada Gazette. The Assistant Director of the Service, A.H. McGreer, noted “he used language which is commonly employed by officers of all ranks, and I am sure he never dreamed of all his statements being reported… If it comes to a court martial they can’t convict him, I’m sure of that… Andrew got the MC the other day…” Word of Andrew’s remarks at Cambrai, when told that he did not belong up front – “if the men can go, I can” – had percolated through the Division. After they had cooled down, the authorities let him off with a warning, and a transfer.  

W. B. Carleton, a priest from Metcalfe, Ontario, received a surprise when the French Army conferred the Croix de Guerre for his intrepid work with the 3rd Division Artillery. Carleton would return as a Senior Chaplain to the Canadian Army in 1940.

Other chaplains were showing signs of strain as the pressure of operations turned into the march to occupation across the Rhine and restlessness to get home. Sickness, nervousness and other disorders were reported by several padres: chronic bronchitis, a sign of exhaustion, and hard to treat in the pre-anti-biotic era. His Brigade reduced to a skeleton by casualties, B.J. Murdoch was returned to Britain on sick leave, exhausted and insomniac. He was given early discharge and returned to New Brunswick, though the psychological scars of being under fire relentlessly in the last 100 days would haunt him for the rest of his life. Almond learned that one of his former chaplains, Salvation Army officer Charles Robinson, who had reverted to combatant ranks in 1916 and been awarded a Military Cross at Vimy Ridge, had been killed in September and was buried near Arras. Just previously word had reached headquarters that a Methodist Chaplain, Eric Johnston, who had been in action continuously with the Canadian Machine Gun Battalion since Amiens, trying to spend a week with each company across the Corps, had been evacuated sick to #20 General Hospital, where he died of pneumonia.

Other padres found the change in moral climate and the breakup of units for repatriation seemed calculated to undo their work. Roman Catholic chaplains went to the Belgian hierarchy as well as the British Army authorities to fight a soaring V.D. rate. F.G. Sherring, a decorated Anglican Chaplain, exploded in rage when his 2nd Division Artillery units were scattered, ruining his plans to distribute comforts ranging from cigarettes to underwear -- as well as his Christmas and New Years’ religious services. Fortunately for him, his near-seditious remarks about the high command were expressed in reports to his chaplaincy superiors, who quietly filed them away without action or comment.

Throughout the rest of the winter and early spring of 1919, the Canadian chaplains prepared for the peace. Many occupied themselves in teaching in the Khaki University, and some took advantage of the program to add to their own education. Nearly two dozen made the journey to Buckingham Palace to receive decorations from King George V.  Often they ran into chaplains of other denominations which they had served alongside, and which they might never see, much less work with again. John Holman reminisced about urgently throwing up sandbags alongside a priest to protect an advanced dressing station before taking heavy fire, both in their shirtsleeves in the Amiens heat. Many took part in the conferring of battalion colours, now being brought over from England or being consecrated for the first time, in drumhead services in Germany and Flanders. Others found themselves, in moments of inactivity, thrown back to moments which they had pushed into the back of their minds during the victory autumn. They saw faces. They recalled brief, intense, often whispered confidences. They remembered the men they had helped, many, to die. Percy Coulthurst, Ewen MacDonald, Thomas McCarthy, Canon Scott just out of hospital in England and W.H. Sparks flashing back to ministering, stretcher to stretcher, reciting, “The Lord is my Shepherd”.

For many chaplains with the Corps, the end of combat meant the pressure to get letters written, some perhaps which they probably had wished to avoid. Murdoch found himself awash in letters of sympathy to kinfolk in Canada. His Montreal battalions, Highlanders, and working men left widows and orphans, bereaved parents who needed some reassurance and comfort. Their men had died well, suffered little, and had the ministrations of the priest or minister they needed and deserved in the hour of their death. On their return, more than one followed the example of George Kilpatrick, by 11 November the Senior Chaplain of a Division, who personally visited the homes of every soldier from the 42nd Battalion who had died overseas. As harrowing is that could be, there were some consolation for padres, as more than one family was grateful for every scrap of news about their loved one they could provide. They were touched, and often inspired by another kind of bravery and resolute courage they witnessed among those who had only waited, and waited.

One of the most perceptive padres to write his superiors in this period was A. B. MacDonald, a priest who would return to his Calgary church and devote his life to veterans after the war. He had spent days among the refugees who streamed back during the last weeks of the German retreat, hearing pitiful tales of deprivation and atrocity. He had been only a few miles from Mons when his gunners ceased firing on the 11th. As he looked around him, at the devastated land and lives, and contemplated his own men coming back seeking order out of chaos at home, he knew he needed help.

MacDonald reached out to J.J. O’Gorman, the doughty priest who lit the fuse which exploded in Ottawa and led to reform of the Catholic chaplaincy, now returned to direct the Catholic Army Huts overseas. He asked for copies of popular and influential tracts by Catholic authorities on social questions, family life and the pronouncements of Leo XIII on the church’s role in society. He intended to translate, rewrite and paraphrase their contents to adapt them to Canadian conditions and Canadian veterans. “The practical application of social science in Canada will be completely different from England”, he noted. Lt. Col. W.T. Workman, in London, ensured that he would have Rome leave.

By the summer of 1916 MacDonald was back at Sarcee Camp in Calgary. He noted to A.L. Sylvestre, his Senior Chaplain in Canada, that the veterans would open up and trust the uniformed padre, or one they had known overseas. He recommended that the Permanent Force be granted permanent chaplaincies. Sylvestre was sympathetic, but Ottawa was already preparing the demise of the Chaplain Service. MacDonald was probably the last chaplain standing on the day it was officially demobilized -- 1 January, 1921. The Great War was really over: now came the Peace to endure, and overcome.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Remembering Canada's First Black Military Chaplain

A colleague here at the Canadian Forces Chaplain School and Centre was reviewing our new chaplain history curriculum and asked me why our first African-Canadian chaplain was not included.   Because I didn't know the story, I said, and now I can share it with you.

The Rev. William Andrew White was the Baptist pastor of a black congregation in Truro, Nova Scotia when the Great War began.   American by birth and the son of former slaves, White came to Canada through the network of the African Baptist Association and attended seminary at Acadia University in Wolfville.  

African Canadians were not allowed to enlist in the Army until 1916, when the government authorized No. 2 Construction Battalion, consisting of black soldiers led by white officers.    Rev. White actively recruited for this unit, and half of its strength came from Nova Scotia.  White was appointed as the Battalion chaplain was the only African Canadian to be commissioned as an officer during World War One.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography gives this account:

Some members of the battalion trained in Windsor, Ont., and the rest in Pictou, N.S., and later Truro. In March 1917 the unit embarked for England. They were attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps (Jura Group) and relegated to the status of “company” because they were about 300 men under strength. In May they were sent to eastern France, where they worked alongside white troops during logging and milling operations but were segregated the rest of the time. Their chaplain had a hard row to hoe: white soldiers would not accept his ministrations, even when they otherwise lacked the services of a clergyman. Nevertheless he was an unmitigated force for good across racial lines. Such were his courage, moral authority, and physical stature that he once interposed himself between his unit and a group of white men to avert a riot.

Given the racial prejudices of the day, it was a significant step for the Chaplain Service, thanks to its director, John Almond, who was progressive for his time.   Almond had tried to send an Anglican Metis chaplain to serve Canadian Indigenous detachments scattered through France, but his request was turned down by CEF Headquarters which disapproved of "roving commissions".  Almond had also wanted to send a Jewish chaplain to France, but HQ likewise objected, claiming that "there were no concentrations of Jewish troops large enough to merit [their own chaplain]" (Duff Crerar, Padres in No Man's Land, 2nd ed, p. 68).

Padre White survived the war and died in 1936.   His CEF record may be found here.  He deserves to be better remembered as a significant figure in the history of the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Tubby Clayton: A Commission From Tim Godden

In my previous post I mentioned the British artist Tim Godden, who specializes in images of the Great War and of Edwardian sports figures.  His style captives me - there’s a simplicity and a sincerity about it I prefer to the legions of commercial artists out there specializing in military scenes.   Tim excels at capturing the humanity and vulnerability of his subjects, as in his collaboration with Peter Doyle, Percy: A Story of 1918.   

I wanted a portrait of Phillip Clayton, one of the most well-known British chaplains of the Great War.  An Anglican, “Tubby”, as he was widely known, was not one of the front-line chaplains like F.R. Scott or Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy (Woodbine Willie) but his greatest service to the troops was to found and run Talbot House, a sort of hostel not far behind the line in the Ypres Salient, in the town of Poperinge.   Talbot House, or “TocH” as it was known in the phonetic signaller’s alphabet of that war, was mostly a refuge, though it was within reach of enemy artillery.    Clayton wrote that “During the varying fortunes of the Salient shells have crossed and recrossed the roof from three points of the compass at least”.

Here is Godden's depiction of Clayton. I will keep the original, and will donate a print of it to the Chaplain School of the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service before my tour here ends.

What made TocH special was its all ranks nature.  Clayton had a sign prominently displayed, “ALL RANK ABANDON YE WHO ENTER HERE”.  Tim has placed the sign at the top of the painting, and has Tubby framed in the door of his office.    Figures of the soldier guests can be seen in the mirror behind him.

The Talbot House motto allowed an informality and companionship that was otherwise seldom possible in the socially rigid and stratified Army of the day.   Here is an excerpt from Clayton’s book, “Tales of Talbot House”.

Under its aegis unusual meetings lost they awkwardness. I remember, for instance, one afternoon on which the tea-party (there generally was one) comprised a General, a staff captain, a second lieutenant, and a Canadian private.   After all, why not?  They had all knelt together that morning in the Presence.   “Not here, lad, not here”, whispered a great G.O.C. at Aldershot to a man who had stood aside to let him go first to the Communion rails; and to lose that spirit would not have helped to win the war, but would make it less worth winning.   There was, moreover, always a percentage of temporary officers who had friends not commissioned whom they longed to meet.   The padre’s meretricious pips seemed in such a case to provide an excellent chaperonage.  Yet further, who knows what may be behind the private’s uniform?   I mind me of another afternoon when a St. John’s undergraduate, for duration a wireless operator with artillery, sat chatting away.   A knock, and the door opened timidly to admit a middle-aged Royal Field Artillery driver, who looked chiefly like one in search of a five-franc loan.  I asked (I hope courteously) what he wanted, whereupon he replied: “I could only find a small Cambridge manual on paleolithic man in he library.  Have you anything less elementary?”  I glanced sideways at the wireless boy and saw that my astonishment was nothing to his.  “Excuse me, sir,” he broke in, addressing the driver, “but surely I used to come to your lectures at ____ College.”   “Possibly,” replied the driver, but mules are my speciality now.

 You can compare Godden’s likeness to this period photograph of Clayton.   



Talbot House is now a museum and a hostel, and can be visited by tourists.   I hope to make a pilgrimage there myself in the foreseeable future.   

I have some more excerpts from Tales of Talbot House, now sadly out of print, that I hope to post here as time permits, as they are excellent stories and vignettes of military chaplaincy from the Great War.



Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book Review: Percy, a Story of 1918


Percy: A Story of 1918, by Peter Doyle with illustrations by Tim Godden. London: Unicorn Publishing Group, 2018.  ISBN: 978-1-911604-81-5

Percy is a collaboration between a distinguished British historian of the Great War, Peter Doyle, and illustrator Tim Godden to tell the story of a young lad who left his life in a coal mining village in Wales to serve in the infantry in the final year of the War.  It is a true story, told thanks to the discovery of the young man’s letters to his sweetheart Kitty, which turned up years later in a flea market.

While aimed at older children and young adults, I thoroughly enjoyed Percy.   The first chapters make an accessible social history of what life was life in the coal pits of Edwardian Britain.  Suffice to say that the men and boys who went into those mines required just as much courage as they would have needed to face the trenches.   It was a dangerous and dirty life, and Doyle tells the story with realism and sympathy while never sliding into sentiment.

We then follow Percy into the Army as a volunteer, wanting to do his bit like his brother and the other men of his village.   Doyle takes us through the disorientation of his training and deployment to France, all the while comforted by letters to and from his sweetheart Kitty.  The tale is told with great empathy not only through Doyle’s words but through Tim Godden’s wonderfully vivid watercolours.   Godden is a noted artist, specializing in the Great War and in sports figures of the early twentieth century.   there isa wonderful charm and simplicity to his work, and it is perfectly suited to this project.

I won’t tell you how the book ends, except to say that I found it immensely powerful and moving.    Percy Edwards was just one of millions of boys and men caught up in that vast conflict, and in this little book Percy becomes a kind of Everyman, speaking for all of them.

Percy: A Story of 1918, is available on Amazon.  I ordered mine from Amazon UK, and it took a while getting to me in Canada, but it was worth the wait.





Monday, October 22, 2018

Self and Selflessness: A Sermon For the Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Diocese of Toronto, Barrie, ON, 21 October, 2018, the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost


Texts:  First Reading) Job 38:1-7, Psalm 91:9-16; (Second Reading) Hebrews 5:1-10, (Gospel) Mark 10:35-45





whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:44-45)


Last week I was at a conference of my fellow military chaplains, and a familiar complaint was raised.    “What do I have to do to get promoted?”  “Why was so and so promoted after only a few years, while other good chaplains work hard but are still not promoted?”   “I would like some recognition for the good things I do.”


The ironic thing was that these complaints came after a discussion that focused on our common mission as chaplains and officers:   caring for military members and their families, looking out for subordinates, and generally being true to our chaplain corps motto, “Called to Serve”.  


You can see the contradiction quite clearly.  Here are a group of religious people who are trying to live out a common vocation of service to others.    At the same time, as members of a military system that uses rank and medals to measure seniority and prestige, these caring and selfless people also cared about themselves.    


I’m not surprised, therefore, when James and John come to Jesus and ask to share in his glory.   Sure, they sound like a couple of shallow numbskulls, but their behaviour is hardly unusual among the disciples.   Just a bit earlier in Mark’s gospel, Jesus hears the disciples arguing and bickering as they are walking along.   When he asks them what the argument was about, they shuffle their feet and awkwardly admit that “they had argued with one another who was the greatest” (Mk 9:34).    


After that episode, Jesus told the disciples that “Whoever wants to be the first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).  Nevertheless, here are James and John, just one chapter later, asking Jesus to be seated beside him in what they think is his heavenly glory.  So yes, James and John may be especially obtuse in not understanding the kind of kingdom that Jesus is offering, but I don’t think they’re alone.   I think of my chaplain colleagues, wanting to serve others but also wanting to make Major or Lieutenant Colonel, and I see a bit of James and John in them.  It’s a bit of a contradiction, the call to selfless service and the need for recognition.


Surely this is a contradiction that most church people can relate to.   I think we understand selflessness at some level because we are schooled in it by our life in the church.  As children we hear chancel step talks about being nice to others.   We sing hymns like “Sister let me be your servant”.   We hear scripture readings like today’s gospel, which check our ego and tell us that “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mk 10:43).   


Nevertheless, our egos stubbornly refuse to remain in check for long.    We like to be recognized.   Lots of clergy delight in getting titles like Canon.   Clergy and lay people like to be thanked at Synod for their service on committees and projects.  Congregations are grateful when the Bishop comes and tells them they are doing a good job.    Remember the last time that Bishop Peter came here and told us how proud he is St. Margaret’s and the work we do as a parish?   That made us feel pretty good, didn’t it?  The desire for acknowledgement and recognition is pretty universal in the church, because it’s a human desire, and churches are made up of people.  


Parishioners, being people, like to be recognized for all their various ministries.  A simple shout out from the priest during the announcements — “Thanks to all the hard work of Jane and Jim, our yard sale raised XX dollars” — carries a lot of weight.   And why shouldn’t we thank people?   I learned early on as a priest that two of the most effective words I could say in the parish were “Thank you”.


In the ancient world, in the courts of the rulers and tyrants that Jesus mentions in Mark’s gospel, no one said “thank you” to a servant.   Servants and slaves were meant to be efficient but invisible, only noticed if needed, like so many household appliances.    We say “thank you” to acknowledge service and express gratitude.   It’s a way of saying, “I see what you did there, I noticed how hard you worked, and I’m grateful for it.”  Every Sunday I’m grateful for all the ministries that make our worship happen, for the leadership that keeps the parish running, and for all the selfless giving of money that keep Simon paid and the lights on and the doors open.  I know that you don’t do these things for fame or glory, but I still want to say thank you, to all of you, for all that you do.


In the two years I have been here, I often look around at this parish and think, “Wow, this is a great place.  We could do some things better, but we really get being church, and we do it well.    Is it wrong to think that?  Is it prideful to think that all of this talent and energy and selflessness makes St. Margaret’s a special church?   Is it wrong to want St. Margaret’s to harness all of its potential, to want it to be a leader and a role-model for other Anglican churches in this part of the Diocese?   Yes, I suppose it would be misguided pride, if we wanted these things solely for the gratification of our egos.    It would be certainly be wrong if we thought that God loved us for being such a good church.  Because, really, God just loves us.  Regardless.


The whole point of church is to bring people together to rely on the love and grace of God.  That’s it.   Our second lesson from Hebrews makes this point well.   The author of Hebrews reminds us that even the priest, yes, even Simon and me and everyone else at the front, relies on this love and grace just as much as every person in the pews.   Hebrews says that the priest, “is subject to weakness” and must therefore “offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people” (Heb 5:2-3).  All of us, even the folks in the fancy white robes, are imperfect.   None of us could not stand before God if it wasn’t for God’s love and willingness to set aside our shortcomings.   


Everything good that we do as a church is because of God’s love in Christ.   Everything important that we should do as a church going forward is because of God’s love in Christ.   Hebrews says that Christ is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9).  If we take pride in St. Margaret’s as a parish, it should be because we bring people to relationship with Christ.     If we make plans for St. Margaret’s to grow, or to improve, or to build a new wing of our building, then Christ should be at the centre of our plans.  


There is nothing wrong taking pride in our parish, or feeing good when Bishop Peter tells us that we’re doing a good job.  There’s nothing wrong with finding satisfaction in our various ministries to make it all happen.   It’s very human to want to be seen and recognized for our contributions, whatever they may be.   Some of us are at places and stages in life where we need to be helped and served by others in the church, and that’s okay.  Others of us have gifts and talents and energies to serve as Christ calls us to serve.    All of us can say thank you.  All of us can say I’m glad you’re here.   All of us say how can I help.  When we do and say these things, we will look around, and we will certainly see Christ in our midst.   A church with Christ in its midst is certainly a church, well, not to be proud of, but to be grateful for.


Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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