Following some ‘chance’ encounters I found myself in conversation with the army about ways to serve and opportunities for local interfaces.
The army’s youth organisation has two army cadet units here in Ilkeston and all of Derbyshire (32 units from Buxton to Swadlincote) were without a padre through a combination of ill health, retirements or relocation.
So, after a complicated recruitment process, with the support of my diocese and my training priest, this summer I spent a week in Yorkshire with 371 teenagers at Derbyshire’s annual army cadet camp.
The young people were supported by 50 plus adult volunteers, and during the week I was with them they endured discomfort (often hot or cold or wet), tired ( most of the time) and largely without access to TV, internet or social media, yet they were all having a fantastic time and I heard very little, if any, complaining.
I was there because the army cadets and the army in general value faith involvement and actively seek a padre to be present at their camps.
I went out on exercise with the cadets, very much more to observe and encourage more than participate, similarly my support of the outdoor pursuits session kept me firmly on the river bank cheering others on!
Yet there were amazing conversations to be had about life, faith, and values, initiated by the young people as we queued at meal times or waited for transport or simply passed each other at the end of the day.
Drumhead services were new to me and it was awe inspiring to see young people standing in all weathers joining in.
I was able to share a ‘thought for the day’ and brief prayer at each morning parade.
Local Gideons, had provided 400 pocket sized new testaments in camouflage design for each cadet to have their own, which the cadets were very pleased to have.
I had lots of conversations with cadets, and the chance to support the adult volunteers in their roles too. I took part in kit inspections and learned to salute and wear uniform!
It was a privilege to be amongst this group and share their experience for the week.
Their energy, enthusiasm and commitment to their goals challenged me and I very much hope to go again and see how they have developed further.
It was a fabulous opportunity to share God’s love and journey alongside young people while they challenged themselves.
The army is actively seeking to recruit padres, for the regular army, the reservists and the cadet corps and in today’s sometimes secular culture, enthusiastically welcomed hearing the word of God and receiving new testaments.