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Denominational Considerations

Denominational Considerations

As far as possible each denomination was represented by its own chaplains who were appointed on the ratio of Church membership in the 2nd NZEF. At the outset the denominational figures were based on information taken from the men's attestation forms, but after conscription came into force the denominational ratios page 16 were calculated on the normal civilian religious statistics, which in 1942 were as follows:

Per cent
Church of England 44.25
Presbyterian 27.10
Roman Catholic 15.10
Methodist 8.75
Other Denominations 4.80

The final establishment of chaplains in the 2nd NZEF was fifty, excluding one with the Forestry Group in England, and the denominations were represented as follows:

Church of England 20
Presbyterian 14
Roman Catholic 8
Methodist 4
Other Denominations 4

After many trials and experiments the establishment for the 2nd New Zealand Division was fixed at twenty-six chaplains, leaving twenty-four for the various duties at Base, in the hospitals, and in Line of Communication units.

In New Zealand camps it was often possible, with the help of civilian clergy, for all the larger denominations to be served by their own clergy, but overseas with the Expeditionary Force this was impossible, and, when the principle of unit chaplains was adopted, the posting of chaplains still had to be arranged on a wide denominational framework, which needed great care in preparation and much tolerance in working. For instance, when brigades had four chaplains, it would have been easy to appoint one from the four largest denominations, but this would have still left great inequalities. The smaller denominations would have had no representation at all, and the Church of England chaplain would have had more than five times as many Church members as the Methodist chaplain. However, a system of posting was evolved in which each large military group had Church of England, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic representation, while the Methodist chaplains and those of the other denominations were distributed as widely as possible.

There were two divergent views which might be said to represent page 17 the opinions of Bishop G. V. Gerard,2 the first Senior Chaplain in the 2nd NZEF, and his successor, Padre J. W. McKenzie.3 They both admitted that the Roman Catholics should have complete freedom and independence, but for the rest the Bishop looked for the continuation of denominational teaching while the Presbyterian believed that much compromise would be justified in wartime. Bishop Gerard could not accept the principle of inter-communion and he wanted a system in which Church of England men could receive the sacraments of their Church, instruction for confirmation, and the liturgical services of the Book of Common Prayer. He favoured frequent denominational Church parades. Padre McKenzie readily admitted that the Church of England has certain exclusive teachings and practices, but he felt that the denominations should be almost interchangeable, so that each chaplain could give full religious ministration to every man in his area. The Bishop was thinking of the ever-present danger that the Christian Gospel should be over-simplified until its vitality was killed, while the Presbyterian realised that the Chaplains' Department could never succeed unless there was complete understanding and co-operation amongst all the chaplains.

Towards the end of the war many opportunities were found for giving denominational teaching, while unhealthy denominational rivalry was avoided by the strong friendship and mutual trust inside the Department for which Padre McKenzie himself had been largely responsible.

The four ‘other denominations’ who had chaplains were the Salvation Army, the Baptists, the Church of Christ, and the Congregationalists, and where possible two of these chaplains were posted to the Division. At first, Roman Catholics were posted to units as unit chaplains but this did not work satisfactorily. Roman Catholic chaplains had a very extensive task in serving all their page 18 Church members in the brigade groups, which meant that their units saw little of them. If they were fulfilling their duties correctly they could not hope to act as normal unit chaplains. Accordingly Roman Catholic chaplains were posted to Field Ambulances as the centre of their sphere of work; later they were posted to the different Brigade headquarters and this proved a satisfactory arrangement. In action they worked at the Advanced Dressing Stations.