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What are Chaplains for?

What are Chaplains for?

The chaplain's duty is to see that men in uniform receive the same opportunities for the practice of their religion as they do in civilian life. The fact that Army life in wartime is vastly different from civilian life does not change the essential Christian message. The need for the teaching of the Church, the administration of the sacraments, and the spread of the Gospel remains the same. New spiritual dangers have to be faced, new methods of pastoral practice devised, while the emphasis on certain virtues and sins has to be changed.

The New Zealand chaplains went further than this. They were satisfied, as far as men can be amid the welter of modern propaganda and conflicting ideologies, that the war was being fought for moral causes and not for national aggrandisement, and so in their preaching and teaching they were prepared to lay great stress on the moral truths at stake. They tried to increase the general efficiency of the Army by attending to the physical welfare of the troops, by supporting on all occasions the Army tradition of good discipline and order, and in battle they endeavoured to play some small part by setting a good example of cheerfulness and courage.

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The value of a chaplain in this respect has been acknowledged on many occasions, and one General in the First World War is reported as saying that a really good chaplain was worth an extra battalion in a division. But such praise is liable to obscure the real duty of a chaplain. He was not put into the Army to be a welfare officer, a political commissar, or professional brave man. but to preach and present the Christian faith. War aims, the success of battles, and welfare work were of secondary importance. Just as Bishop Selwyn ministered to soldiers on both sides during the Maori Wars, many New Zealand chaplains in the Second World War welcomed the opportunity of ministering to the enemy when they were prisoners, or even when the chaplains themselves were prisoners. War aims and nationality make no difference to a man in his need for religion, nor should they ever obscure the first duty of a Christian minister. But where an army has a strong body of practising Christians its efficiency and morale is bound to benefit by the Christian emphasis on personal discipline, on kindliness and cheerfulness, and by the Christian's faith in prayer and belief in immortality, for these things will steel a man's will and carry him forward confidently through danger to death itself.

But it is only fair to add that some Christians did not make good soldiers. Men who had come from conventional homes and who had perhaps been regular though unthinking members of a Church but had never worked out a real, conscious faith for themselves, sometimes compared very badly with the pagan who often set a magnificent example in courage, devotion to duty, and real friendlyness.

It would seem that a chaplain's first duty in the Army is to learn the special conditions of military life and then use every opportunity for satisfying the religious needs of the soldier, and secondly, to do his best to improve the mental and physical welfare of the unit to which he is attached