Army Chaplain - Padre Paul Kerr

Rev Canon Paul Kerr has been a chaplain in the military for 20 years, with his ministry spanning across the Territorial Army, the Royal Engineers and the Army Cadets

Paul said, “In the Territorial Army you are always preparing for what might be. I teach character training at Brompton Barracks to prepare soldiers for what life might be like on operations. It covers how a solider should behave, what the core values are – loyalty, discipline, courage - but it also delves into some of the deeper issues, like what happens when colleagues are wounded or killed.”

The word “padre” is used to describe a chaplain in the military and derives from the Spanish meaning “father”. Padre is collectively used to describe both male and female and chaplains of all faith denominations instead of reverend or sir.

Paul said, “In terms of the liturgical life of a padre, the main effort is an annual service at camp, where you can have up to 500 soldiers on parade and there will be a couple of hymns, some prayers, a reading and a sermon. The service could be in a chapel, in a boardroom or even around a tank in a field.”

While working as a Territorial Army chaplain Paul was part of the volunteer reserves. He said, “As part of the reserves I went to Bosnia in 1999. The soldiers were used as a stabilisation force to try to make sure the infrastructure was put in but, as we went around Bosnia, we saw the effects of war. We saw in areas the size of Medway that the whole population had been moved out and all the homes had been raised to the ground. You just try and do what you can to support those that are homeless and devastated.

“On Sundays, about 14 of us went in a minibus up into the mountains to a care home for the mentally and physically disabled. We would take coffee, tea, sugar, sweeties; they loved sports socks, so I would often go up there with 200 white pairs of sports socks. I would scour the markets of Bosnia to be able to take them. Being a chaplain I was taken down into the bowels of the house where some of the more severe cases of mental disturbance lived. The patients were often kept out-of-sight and, because there were not many drugs available, patients were often tied to the bed. “

A padre’s life in the army is 24/7. Paul said, “In the army, particularly on operational service, you are living as one of them; you are in the same mess, you eat, sleep, and go on manoeuvres together. Life is sometimes more intense than my normal parish life because in my parish life I can go home at the end of the day, in the military that isn’t quite so easy.”

As soon as a padre is in a Regular Army chaplaincy department, they will be sent on operational service, sometimes being moved from one area of war to the next without a rest in between. Paul said, “When padres go on operations with the troops they have to make sure that their own inner resources are as full as they can be because we will experience some of the negative things that soldiers experience about being away from home and family. And like everybody else sometimes the padre’s mind just needs a rest from it. If a chaplain has had a very difficult time, he may be sent to a barracks that has a senior chaplain until they have built themselves up again.”

Ministering to army personnel is about creating relationships. Paul said, “I think by showing that you can be a friend makes it easier to talk when they have to share deep issues. I try to say to the younger soldiers at Brompton that few of them might consider themselves spiritual but actually, when you get to be thousands of miles away from home, everyone will find within them there is a special need. Whether they call it a spiritual or human need, they may want someone to talk to, to share things with or simply to tell them a joke.”

The army cadets are not fighting a war but learn a number of skills including parade training and marching, some weapon handling, wood craft, camping, cooking and first aid. Paul said, “Padres join in with the cadets as much as possible. If they are camping in a field for a few days or if they are going on a 10 mile march then we will join them. Sometimes a padre’s life is not always talking about God, religion or church; young people are just like adults and they want to talk about football or they may want to talk about the weather or they may just want to talk about the conditions they are living in. So we are often employed in a pastoral and supportive way.”

In order to be a Territorial Army chaplain you must have at least 2 years' ministry experience, be medically and physically fit, under the age of 57 and prepared to offer a 3 year commitment. For a chaplain in the cadets the upper age limit is 62.


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