UNIT Routine Orders on Saturday mornings used to mention the Church services for the following day under two headings: Church Parades and Voluntary Services. When the time came for Church parade the Roman Catholics marched off to Mass and the others to where the unit service was to be held. A building was normally better than the open air for Church parades, for the men could sit down and escape from some of the parade-ground formality; there was often a piano, and it was easier to sing indoors. The service usually consisted of two or three hymns, a reading from the Bible, some prayers, and a short address, the whole lasting about half an hour. Church of England chaplains used a special prayer book, which was distributed before the service and consisted of a shortened form of Morning Prayer with a small selection of psalms, prayers, and hymns. The other chaplains used a hymn book compiled by the YMCA, but, although two books were used, all the services followed a uniform pattern.
The chaplain had to triumph over his surroundings and make the ugly cinema or gloomy canteen feel like a real church. He had to lead the singing and tell the men when to stand and when to sit during the service. He had to be acutely aware of the ‘feel’ of a service and take steps to keep that ‘feel’ right. If a hymn was not a success it had to be stopped in the middle; if the day was particularly hot he might shorten the Scripture reading and the prayers; and if he felt that attention was wandering he had to find some way of regaining interest. Some chaplains could sense the feeling of a congregation before the service began and would adapt their methods accordingly.
The chaplain found difficulty in preparing his sermons. He had few books of reference and no quiet study in which to read them; moreover, if he prepared his sermon too early in the week it would often be out of date or unsuitable by Sunday because of some military event or item of news. His sermon had to be short, concentrating on one important point, and a leavening of wit and Army phraseology was appreciated.page 90
The chaplain enjoyed a relationship with his congregation and parishioners which was much closer than that normally found in civilian life. After the service he would receive praise, suggestions, and friendly criticism, which was often extremely valuable. Many an officers' mess helped to keep the chaplain on the right track. ‘My chaps said they liked your sermon this morning,’ one platoon commander would say. ‘The men don't know that last hymn,’ another would add, while perhaps a third would make a suggestion: ‘Why not tell us one Sunday, Padre, what is the Christian teaching about death. I think the men would be interested, but don't make it too gloomy.’ When a chaplain had served for some time with a unit and had proved himself, he could be sure that his congregation would give him friendly and intelligent support as he tried to apply the teaching of Jesus Christ to the everyday life of the soldier. But in Base camps and in some other places, the chaplain often had to preach to strangers who would not give him the same sympathetic hearing.