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Army chaplain stars on Songs of Praise

A day in the life of an Army chaplain who enjoys “talking to people who don’t go to church” is set to feature on BBC Songs of Praise this evening (Sunday 13 August).

The cameras followed Reverend Amy Walters CF, of 13 Air Assault Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps, to gain an insight into the role of an Army chaplain. Presenter Claire McCollum joined Revd Walters at Colchester’s Merville Barracks for a physical training session and a service in the camp’s Gurkha Temple, while British Army Band Colchester performed at a service in Castle Park.

As 13 Air Asslt Sp Regt RLC’s chaplain, Revd Walters is responsible for the pastoral care of soldiers of “all faiths, and no faith at all”.

"As a chaplain, my role is to care for the Army’s people." Revd Amy Walters
13 Air Assault Support Regiment RLC

“As a chaplain, my role is to care for the Army’s people,” the 38-year-old said. ““I provide support to service personnel, civilians who work with the military and their families regardless of their beliefs. This can be pastoral support, moral guidance or spiritual support, whether that’s talking about Christianity or helping others to be able to practice their faith.

“My faith motivates me to do this job, and while I offer my ministry as a Christian I am a non-judgmental ear to listen and advocate for people on all sorts of issues - bereavement, relationship problems, work difficulties, past issues with abuse and so on. I’m not here to convert people and I made a promise to myself to never start the religious conversation, but people always do it for me!”

Revd Walters, originally from Kettering, Northants, joined the Army eight years ago after being ordained and working as a Methodist minister in Yorkshire.

“If you’d told me 20 years ago that I’d be in the Army I’d have laughed, as I hold strong liberal and pacifist views and would have thought of myself as more likely to be a protestor!” She said. “As a minister I enjoyed the outreach side of ministry and talking to people who don’t go to church. My brother James joined the Army, he’s a major in the Royal Anglian Regiment, and his experiences opened my eyes to the military, and I found my calling.”

Revd Walters has served as chaplain to 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, The Household Cavalry and Royal Military Academy Sandhurst before posting to Colchester earlier this year.

“It is a challenging, and at times difficult, role to be a chaplain, because we work alone and need a strong faith to keep motivated,” she said. “But I get to go to places off the beaten track as part of an organisation with a clear purpose, and work with interesting people who have had all sorts of different experiences in their life.”

13 Air Asslt Sp Regt RLC brings unique challenges for a chaplain, including a Gurkha squadron with soldiers of Hindu and Buddhist faith and its role to be ready to deploy on operations anywhere in the world at short notice.

Revd Walters, who went to Bishop Stopford School, said: “I am a Christian and a Methodist, but I think that we have an awful lot to learn from each other's faiths and beliefs. These are the things that make us tick and help us make decisions, and I feel incredibly honoured to be invited into the Gurkha Temple to learn more about our soldiers’ faiths.

"An operation takes us away from our families and friends at short notice, and it means that someone, somewhere is in a bad situation and needs help." Revd Amy Walters
13 Air Assault Support Regiment RLC

“The regiment’s role also brings with it uncertainty. It’s a double-edged sword – our soldiers are ready and motivated to go, but at the same time you don’t want to go. An operation takes us away from our families and friends at short notice, and it means that someone, somewhere is in a bad situation and needs help. I think, for our families as well as our personnel, that's an extra burden to live with that most of the army doesn't have to deal with.”

Army chaplains are part of the Royal Army Chaplains' Department; they must be a qualified faith leader before joining and complete the Commissioning Course (Short) at Sandhurst. While chaplains deploy on operations with their unit, they do not carry weapons and are only trained to make a rifle safe.