Canadian Forces Chaplaincy seeks increased diversity

Article / May 17, 2017 / Project number: 16-0312

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Ottawa, Ontario — The Canadian Forces Chaplaincy Branch is seeking to hire religious leaders from faiths that are not yet represented to embrace Canada’s diverse faith community.

Brigadier-General Guy Chapdelaine, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Chaplain General, said he has already seen a great deal of change in the branch since he joined in 1979, but that there is still some way to go before it is fully representative of Canada’s multicultural mosaic.

“We see more women, we see more people from different religious backgrounds. We had our first Muslim Chaplains in 2003 and our first Rabbi a couple of years later. And now we are looking for chaplains from other religious groups, such as the Hindu and Sikh faiths. We would like to provide more representation in the chaplaincy of the diversity of Canada.”

“Diversity brings a lot of richness to the Canadian Armed Forces,” he added. “The mix of all these men and women from different backgrounds will build a stronger organization.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Lisa Pacarynuk, who currently serves in the Chaplain General’s office, said personal contact is often the most effective recruiting tool. And, she added, it is hoped the branch’s increasing diversity will be a multiplier.

“Now that we have Jewish and Muslim members among us, we encourage them to do the same activities that Christian chaplains have traditionally done by asking them, ‘Who are your friends, who are your contacts?’ Because we don’t yet have all the diverse representation we would like, we have to do a bit of outreach.”

As in other military trades, prospective Chaplains have the option of full-time employment in the Regular Force or part-time in the Reserve.

Padre Lieutenant-Colonel John O’Donnell, Deputy Army Command Chaplain, said Reserve Chaplains bring valuable perspectives from their civilian lives to the work.

“Many of them, of course, are pastors in parishes but we also have people who are academics, people who work in various facets of the not-for-profit sector, faith-based organizations. So these people bring their experience and their learning and their knowledge from the civilian sector into their work as military chaplains in the Reserves and the two complement each other.”

Whether Reserve or Regular Force, CAF Chaplains are always well-connected to their particular religious communities through the CAF’s Interfaith Committee on Canadian Military Chaplaincy (ICCMC), which acts as a link.

“As Chaplain General, I am also a Roman Catholic priest and I belong to a Roman Catholic diocese,” said BGen Chapdelaine. “Even if we are military officers, we remain religious leaders. And as a Catholic, I like to have the opportunity to celebrate Mass, to exercise my ministry, to remain who I am in order to give to the community.”

Captain Suleyman Demiray was the first non-Christian and Muslim Imam to join the Chaplaincy. He said the role of a Chaplain is best summed up as a matter of caring for soldiers and their loved ones.

“We care for our troops by listening to their problems, doing counselling and a lot of ministry of presence wherever they are deployed,” he explained. “On a national or international level, we visit them and stay with them and we provide support as much as we can in all circumstances.”

Capt Demiray’s international experience includes a deployment to Afghanistan, where he assisted in engaging local religious leaders as part of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team.

“Chaplain services is embedded with troops wherever they go. It’s a challenging environment but we are there to help and support our troops,” he said. “We provide pastoral care in difficult situations and support our deployed troops and our rear party supports their families.”

Captain Rabbi Lazer Danzinger, who serves at Toronto’s Denison Armoury, described the Chaplain’s role as multifaceted.

“Our motto in the chaplaincy branch is we minister to our own, we facilitate the worship of others, and we care for all,” he said. “We’re there from time of enrollment to provide support, not only to the military person but to his family as well. For me, that’s probably the most important: to help a soldier in need.”

That support crosses all religious lines, he added, including religious beliefs of all.

 “The majority of our work is not worship,” said Capt Danziger. “It’s mostly caring for all and caring for all has little directly to do with religion. Religion informs me in what I do. It’s a wellspring from which I can draw wisdom to help people in their situations. But it’s not a divider between me and my fellow.”

The primary responsibilities of a Canadian Forces Chaplain are:

Officiating at special functions, religious services and ceremonies.

Advising the Commanding Officer regarding religious accommodations issues, ethical dilemmas, as well as spiritual and morale issues of the unit.

Liaising with civilian religious faith groups.

Referring members to other care providers such as social workers, psychologists, or medical personnel.

Providing directed care after significant life incidents.

Providing notifications to a member's next-of-kin when directed.

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