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"

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.

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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