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Chaplains' Courses

Chaplains' Courses

The peaceful life of Syria supplied the chaplains with opportunities for hard, steady, and useful work, but after two months of it many of them were beginning to feel themselves tired and uninspired. The Senior Chaplain, the Rev. J. W. McKenzie, at once took steps to put this right. He interviewed the Officer in charge of Administration (Brigadier W. G. Stevens) and then went to call on Dr. Bayard Dodds, the President of the American University in Beirut. The result was the first course held for chaplains in the Middle East. Nearly every New Zealand chaplain, as well as some from the British and Australian forces, attended one or other of the two courses held in Beirut. Comfortable quarters were supplied in the University, and there was a splendid team of lecturers from the staff, consisting of Americans, Syrians, Armenians, and page 48 Arabs who spoke in flawless English with an encyclopaedic knowledge. Some of the lectures were on the Middle East background and history of the Bible, while others of a more general nature included such subjects as the political situation in Syria, the history of the Arabs, the religion of Islam, and a description of the many different Christian sects in the Middle East. These courses were most successful. The chaplains were refreshed in mind and body, and their spirits were strengthened by the companionship of their colleagues and the regular periods of devotions.

About this time, too, the New Zealand Roman Catholic chaplains attended an excellent Retreat organised by the Royal Army Chaplains' Department in a Carmelite monastery in the village of Bechare, near the top of the Lebanon Mountains.

In later times further New Zealand courses were held for chaplains in Cairo, Tripoli, and Italy. The British Army, with the full approval of General Montgomery, also adopted this idea, and a permanent school, which was formed in Jerusalem, conducted a series of ten-day courses. This school was open to New Zealand chaplains, most of whom attended while attached to Base units. The syllabus included sightseeing trips as well as lectures, and the chaplains were provided with competent guides for tours of the city of Jerusalem and some of the other holy places in Palestine. It would be hard to overestimate the value of these courses for chaplains. The fresh knowledge, interest, and rest revitalised all their work.