Pastoral visit sees Presbyterian Moderator reach new heights!

With just under a month to go to the PCI General Assembly, when Rt Rev Dr David Bruce steps down as Presbyterian Moderator, he reached new heights recently when he took to the skies over central London with some of PCI’s forces chaplains in an RAF Puma Mk 2 helicopter.

The flight was part of a two-day Tri-Service visit to the Church’s Armed Forces Chaplains in England where he met some of PCI’s padres in the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and British Army. Encouraging and praying with them, he heard how they support personnel and families in all three services.

The Right Reverend Dr David Bruce, joins Puma students of 28 Sqn on a training sortie through London Heli Lanes whilst on a visit to the RAF Benson Chaplaincy. 17 May 2022. Right Reverend Dr Bruce holds the position of Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI). As part of this appointment he is tasked with visiting various areas nationally and globally, including the armed forces. Currently there are ten PCI Padres within UK Defence, Rev Dr Sqn Ldr Wilson of RAF Benson Chaplaincy being one of them. The Moderator is accompanied on the visit by the Convener of PCI’s Armed Forces’ Panel, the Very Reverend Dr Rob Craig. As well as providing religious and spiritual services, Armed Forces Chaplains are also an important source of welfare support and guidance to service personnel and their families.

Speaking after his return from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, where his 15 minute trip to London would have normally taken an hour and a half by car – Dr Bruce praised the work of PCI’s chaplains. “Chaplaincy by definition is a specialist ministry, be it in hospitals, prisons, colleges, or universities. Forces chaplaincy inhabits a world that most of us never see, and I am full of admiration for the selfless way our men and women serve Christ in all three services,” he said.

“I was delighted to be able to offer my encouragement and prayers for them personally and express the appreciation of the General Assembly as they fulfil God’s calling upon their lives.”

Accompanied by the Convener of PCI’s Armed Forces’ Panel, Very Reverend Dr Rob Craig, Dr Bruce began his visit at RAF Benson, where Rev Dr Philip Wilson, RAF, is Station Chaplain.

Often known as ‘Padres’, Dr Wilson explained that Armed Forces’ Chaplains offer religious services, pastoral support and ethical instruction to service people, their dependants, families, and civilian staff. Available for everyone, of whatever faith or none, chaplains wear uniform, deploy overseas leaving their families behind for long periods of time. To become a padre, ministers go through the same selection and rigorous training as other serving personnel – with one important exception – chaplains do not carry weapons.

“It’s been great to have the Moderator and Dr Craig come to visit and for them to learn more about what we’re doing at this important time. It is also important that the military knows that the Church is there for them and remembers them in the innumerable stresses and strains of life, not only in the Royal Air Force, but in the in Army and Royal Navy,” Dr Wilson said.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has a long pastoral association with the UK’s three services and is one of the recognised ‘Sending Churches’ having ‘sent’, or provided chaplains to the military for over 100 years. Today, PCI has 13 full-time and part-time forces chaplains, many of whom have supported their comrades on active service overseas.

During his visit to RAF Benson, Dr Bruce met PCI RAF Padres Rev Michael McCormick and Rev Jonathan Newell, as well as PCI Army Padre, Rev Ivan Linton. From RAF Benson, which is part of Joint Helicopter Command, the Moderator and Dr Craig travelled to the West Country and Royal Navy Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset. The Station is one of the Royal Navy’s two principal air bases, and one of the busiest military airfields in the United Kingdom.

Hosted by PCI’s Royal Navy padre, Rev Dr Brent van der Linde RN, Dr Bruce and Dr Craig spent time with RNAS Yeovilton Station Commander, Commodore Niall Griffin, MBE, RN, had lunch in the galley with some of the sailors stationed there, and met air traffic controllers.

Rt Rev Dr David Bruce (left) with PCI’s Royal Navy padre, Rev Dr Brent van der Linde RN in the chapel

Speaking about his visit, Dr Bruce said, “One of my recent predecessors described Forces Chaplaincy as ‘a unique kind of ministry’ and he was right. Dr Craig and I very much appreciated the warm welcome we received from Philip and Brent, and their colleagues. The flight over London in the Puma was something that I won’t forget in a hurry! Neither will I forget the patience, dedication and commitment of our chaplains.

“I would earnestly encourage our people to pray for all our men and women in forces chaplaincy, along with their families, as they walk with Jesus in this unique calling especially since their work often means spending time apart from loved ones and sometimes, in harm’s way,” Dr Bruce said.

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